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Race as a Factor in Juvenile Arrests

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2003
8 pages

This bulletin examines how race affects police decisions to take juvenile offenders into custody.


The authors begin by reviewing the relevant research literature pertaining to the effects of race on juvenile justice decisionmaking. Two basic perspectives have emerged in the literature. One perspective holds that the juvenile justice system is biased against minority offenders. Prior research has revealed that minority offenders are more likely to be detained and arrested by police and are more likely to be placed in secure custody than white juvenile offenders. The other perspective counters that the juvenile justice system is not biased against minority offenders. This perspective contends that minority youth commit the majority of crimes, and therefore will be over-represented within the juvenile justice system. The current study examined data from the FBI’s 1997 and 1998 National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Law enforcement data from 17 States was available in this dataset. The most serious offenses were selected for the study; all selected incidents involved victim-offender contact. Results indicated that for the selected offenses, white juvenile suspects were significantly more likely to be arrested than their non-white counterparts. Victim accounts revealed that 69.2 percent of the offenders were white, however, 72.7 percent of the arrestees were white. Thus, the NIBRS data does not support the hypothesis that non-white offenders are more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. Indeed, the data revealed that, especially for violent crimes, white juvenile offenders were significantly more likely to be arrested than non-white juvenile offenders. The authors note that their data contains information from only 17 States and that a different picture of juvenile arrest patterns may emerge if other States were included in the analysis. References

Date Published: April 1, 2003