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Critical Examination of "Being Black" in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 40 Issue: 3 Dated: June 2016 Pages: 219-232
J. H. Peck; W. G. Jennings
Date Published
June 2016
14 pages
This study examined the role of race in juvenile court outcomes across three decisionmaking stages.
The analysis was conducted with a random sample of all delinquency referrals in a Northeast State from January 2000 through December 2010 (N = 68,188). In addition to traditional logistic regression analysis, a propensity score matching (PSM) approach was used to create comparable samples of Black and White youth and provide a more rigorous methodological test of the relationship between race and juvenile court processing. Results indicated that even after the use of PSM techniques, race was still found to influence the likelihood of intake (OR = 1.54; 95 percent C.I. = 1.48-1.62, p < .001), adjudication (OR = 0.80; 95 percent C.I. = 0.76-0.84, p < .001), and disposition (OR = 1.64; 95 percent C.I. = 1.54-1.76, p < .001) outcomes. The findings show that Black youth received disadvantaged court outcomes at two of the three stages, even after balancing both groups on a number of confounders. Black youth were treated harsher at intake and judicial disposition, but received leniency at adjudication compared with similarly situated Whites. These relationships were the most evident at the stage of judicial disposition. The findings impact both researchers' and policymakers' strategies to more fully understand the complex relationship between race and social control. They also reaffirm the noticeable role that selection bias can play in the research surrounding race differences in juvenile court outcomes, and highlight the importance of using a more stringent statistical model to control for selection bias. (Publisher abstract modified)