The gateway to the juvenile justice system is at arrest and referral. Disparities with regard to race or ethnicity that begin at this point are likely to continue through the entire juvenile justice process, so it is important to understand disproportionate minority contact at this initial stage of the process.
In simple terms, disproportionate minority contact occurs when the rate of referral for minority youth exceeds the rate of referral for white youth. As an example, minority contact would be disproportionate if the rate of referral for minority youth was 100 referrals per 1,000 minority youth in the population while the rate of referral for white youth was only 50 referrals per 1,000 white youth in the population. Using this example, we could compare the two rates (100 per 1,000 versus 50 per 1,000) to conclude that the rate of referral for minority youth is twice the rate of referral for white youth (i.e., 100/50 = 2). This statistic or index is called a relative rate index, or an RRI. It depicts the rate of referral for minority youth relative to the rate of referral for white youth. An RRI of 2 indicates that the rate of referral for minority youth is twice the rate of referral for white youth.
Previous studies by the Justice Center and the Division of Juvenile Justice clearly show that the rates of referral for minority youth in Alaska significantly exceed the rates of referral for white youth. The 2002 reauthorization of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act requires participating states, including Alaska, to address delinquency prevention and system improvement efforts in order to reduce this disparity. In order to do so effectively, it is important to conduct thorough assessment studies that more clearly identify for whom minority contact is most disproportionate. The Justice Center recently completed a new assessment study for youth referred to the Fairbanks office of the Division of Juvenile Justice. This short article summarizes the key results from this new study.
To conduct our analysis, we examined all youth referred to the Fairbanks office of the Division of Juvenile Justice during fiscal years 2005 and 2006 (i.e., from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2006). During these two fiscal years, the Fairbanks office of the Division of Juvenile Justice received a total of 1,363 referrals. From these referrals, we selected youth with a known and valid address, youth of a known race, and youth who resided inside the Fairbanks North Star Borough. This created a sample of 1,049 referrals (i.e., 77% of all referrals). For each referral, we noted the youth’s race, gender, home census tract, and referral type (person crimes, property crimes, other crimes, and probation/conduct violations). This sample of 1,049 referrals included 657 individual juveniles. Of these 657, most (70%) were only referred once. The others (referred multiple times) accounted for 591 (56%) of the 1,049 referrals.
In Table 1, we examine these referrals by race, gender, and referral type. White and Native youth consistently accounted for the majority of referrals to DJJ. When considered together, white and Native youth accounted for 79 percent of referrals for person crimes, 85 percent of referrals for property crimes, 85 percent of referrals for other crimes, and 86 percent of referrals for probation or conduct violations (results not shown). For males, white youth outnumbered Native youth in referrals for person crimes, property crimes, and other crimes while Native youth outnumbered white youth in referrals for probation or conduct violations. For females, white youth outnumbered Native youth in all referral types.
We then examined rates of referrals by comparing these statistics on the volume of referrals to DJJ to the population of youth-at-risk (defined as youth between the ages of 10 to 17). Rates were calculated by race, gender, and referral type. These rates of referral (per 1,000 youth) are presented in Table 2. Within this table, we also compare the minority rates of referral to the white rates of referral, using the RRI statistic previously described. Again, RRIs above one indicate how much greater the minority rate is relative to the white rate, while RRIs below one indicate how much lower the minority rate is relative to the white rate.
Although white youth had the highest number of referrals, as shown in Table 1, the highest rates of referral were for Native youth. This was true for all types of referrals and for both Native males and Native females. Significant differences in the rates of referrals across racial groups are shown in bold. Results indicate that Native males were 5.62 times more likely to be referred for person crimes than white males, 4.88 times more likely to be referred for property crimes, 3.91 times more likely to be referred for other crimes, and 12.69 times more likely to be referred for probation and conduct violations. Native females were also referred to DJJ at significantly higher rates than white females, for all types of offenses. More specifically, Native females were 5.21 times more likely to be referred for person crimes than white females, 3.91 times more likely to be referred for property crimes, 5.79 times more likely to be referred for other crimes, and 6.86 times more likely to be referred for probation and conduct violations. For all types of referrals, and for both males and females, Native youth were referred at significantly higher rates than white youth. Black males were also referred at significantly higher rates than white males for person crimes (RRI = 4.25), property crimes (RRI = 2.73), other crimes (RRI = 2.34), and probation or conduct violations (RRI = 4.71). By comparison, black females were not referred to DJJ at significantly higher rates than white females. Overall, disproportionate minority contact in referrals to DJJ occurred primarily for Native males, Native females, and black males. In addition, disproportionate minority contact was slightly greater for probation and conduct violations than for person, property, or other crimes.
Finally, we examined whether the disproportionality noted for Native males, Native females, and black males was geographically concentrated in specific census tracts within the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Understanding the geographical distribution of disproportionate minority contact can be helpful in identifying possible causes and developing solutions. Overall, Native males had a higher risk of referral than white males in every census tract. Native females also were disproportionately referred to DJJ from all census tracts except one. Black youth were referred at a higher rate than white youth in 17 of 18 tracts. (One tract was excluded from analysis because no black youths resided there.) In some tracts, black and Native males were referred at rates six times greater than those for white males. Maps illustrating the findings by census tract are available at http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/forum/24/3fall2007/cmaps.html.
To conclude, minority overrepresentation in referrals to the Fairbanks office of the Division of Juvenile Justice clearly exists. In particular, Native males, Native females, and black males were referred to DJJ at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. This was true for all types of referrals (property, person, other, and probation). Disproportionate minority contact was more prevalent for Native youth than for black youth and was slightly more prevalent in referrals for probation and conduct violations than in referrals for person crimes, property crimes, or other crimes. Although these analyses do not explain why disproportionate minority contact occurred, they do provide insights on the scope of the problem. By gaining a more detailed understanding of disproportionate minority contact, we become much better prepared to identify its causes and to develop promising evidence-based solutions.
André B. Rosay is an Associate Professor and Interim Director of the Justice Center. G. Matthew Snodgrass is a graduate of the Justice Center and is now a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. Funds for this research were provided through a federal grant (Grant #2001-JF-FX-0005) from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in accordance with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended. The points of view or opinions in this document do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention or the U. S. Department of Justice. The full report is available on the Justice Center website (http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu).