U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Police Handling of Juvenile Arrests

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2016
33 pages

This study integrated and extended research findings on disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the juvenile justice system by using the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to examine the effects of race/ethnicity and contextual factors on post-arrest handling decisions by police.


The structure of the NIBRS allows for the examination of jurisdictional variation in the treatment of juvenile arrestees, as well as an assessment of whether legal characteristics, extra-legal factors, and social context are relevant to explaining ethnic disparities in the police handling of youth. The study found that DMC was related to the type and severity of the charges involved. Individuals with less severe charges faced increased DMC, as Hispanic/Latino juvenile were 10 percent more likely to be referred to authorities, and white juveniles were 16 percent less likely to be referred to authorities. On the other hand, DMC was not found for juveniles with more severe charges, including violence, weapons, property crime, public order offenses, and drug offenses. For all charges, the effects of ethnicity and race on juvenile disposition were independent; there were no differences between whites and non-white Hispanic/Latinos. Referral of racial/ethnic minority girls to the juvenile justice system varied by severity of the charges. DMC varied across counties, but structural disadvantage was not significantly related to disposition. Juveniles living in less-advantaged areas were not more likely to be referred to authorities than juveniles living in more advantaged areas. These findings emphasize the need to analyze arresting officer behaviors and attitudes, as well as agency-level intervening processes that result in DMC. 3 tables, 53 references, and appended NIBRS group A and B offenses

Date Published: June 1, 2016