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Deservingness and Punishment in Juvenile Justice: Do Black Youth Grow Up "Faster" in the Eyes of the Court?

NCJ Number
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice Dated: 2021
Date Published

This study examined whether race moderates the effect of age on juvenile court dispositions in ways that illuminate a subtler form of racial disparities than has been previously identified.


Drawing on prior theory and research, the study hypothesized that at young ages, virtually all youth are perceived as children and are met with treatment-oriented responses. As youth grow older, however, the study anticipated that Black defendants would be perceived as more culpable and more deserving of punishment than similarly aged White defendants and that disposition patterns will reflect that differential perception. Using data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (N = 124,075), the current study examined a five-category disposition, using a multinomial regression model with interactions between age and race variables. The analysis found mixed support for the hypotheses. On the one hand, compared to similarly-aged White defendants, Black defendants became significantly less likely to be diverted—the most treatment-oriented disposition—and significantly more likely to be transferred—the most punitive disposition—as age increased. On the other hand, race did not moderate age effects for dismissal, probation, or commitment. Thus, there is some evidence that age may be racialized for some dispositions, but not others. Implications for research and policy are discussed. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2021