U.S. flag

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

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Race, Age, and Juvenile Justice Decision Making

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime & Justice Volume: 25 Issue: 2 Dated: 2002 Pages: 23-47
Michael J. Leiber; Kristin Y. Mack
J. Mitchell Miller
Date Published
25 pages
This article describes an empirical inquiry into the combination effects of race and age on decisionmaking in the juvenile justice system.
Because age is treated as a legally justified factor that can be considered by decisionmakers in arriving at outcomes for juveniles, there has been no empirical inquiry into its affect on decisionmaking in combination with race, as has been done in the criminal justice system for adults. In an attempt to rectify this situation, the authors use an interpretation of the symbolic threat thesis (which is based upon the use of racial stereotyping and perceptions of minorities as threatening, particularly young African-Americans) to attempt to examine the validity of three hypotheses that involve the individual and joint effects of race and age on juvenile justice outcomes. A brief review of the influence of consensus theory, labeling theory, and conflict theory is provided. The symbolic threat thesis is described as being based on emotions, a belief that youth, especially minorities, can pose symbolic threats to middle-class standards and public safety. Topics of focus include expectations concerning case outcomes for African-American youth, white youth, older youth, and younger youth. A discussion of present research includes a description of the research sample from Iowa that was used, variables considered, and analysis procedures. A section on results provides a discussion of intake case outcomes. Tables provide information on logistic regression results for intake decisions to recommend court referral differentiated by age; logistic regression results for intake release decisions differentiated by age; and logistic regression results for judicial disposition differentiated by age. In conclusion, it is recommended that a contextual approach be taken that incorporates the factors of race and age that influence intake and judicial disposition case outcomes, in order to provide a more comprehensive picture of the factors that foster perceptions of youth and the need for intervention. A section of notes and a list of references are provided.