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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Juvenile Justice Processing

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2022
23 pages

This is a review of the literature that addresses racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. juvenile justice systems.



It begins with definitions related to racial and ethnic disparities, followed by how such disparities can be measured and a description of the scope of racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. juvenile justice systems. This is followed by a review of literature that addresses how racial and ethnic disparities in a juvenile justice system can be measured and the scope of the problem. Also reviewed is literature that addresses the history of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), followed by a review of reports on the large body of empirical studies that have attempted to explain why there are racial and ethnic disparities in a juvenile justice system. A brief overview is provided of efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice, followed by examples of programs that have attempted to reduce these disparities.  The literature review concludes that racial and ethnic disparity in U.S. juvenile justice systems is a complex issue, and its causes are multifaceted. Methodologically rigorous studies that link intervention to systemwide decreases in these disparities are unavailable (National Research Council, 2013:234-235). The evaluations that do exist have found mixed results. A complicating issue is the disparities that have existed in the experiences of juveniles well before they become involved with the juvenile justice system. These disparities are found in child welfare and foster care systems; school readiness, performance, suspensions, and expulsions; as well as socioeconomic disadvantages of minority racial and ethnic families. Although there is no conclusive evidence in the research literature regarding what works to eliminate racial disparities in a juvenile justice system, appropriate responses are most likely multifaceted. 123 references