May | June 2017

Research Central: Examining Ethnic Disparities Within the Juvenile Justice System

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that established OJJDP authorizes the Administrator to conduct research and evaluations and undertake statistical analyses on issues related to juvenile offending and victimization. Because OJJDP is the only Office of Justice Programs agency with dual mandates for research and programs, we are uniquely positioned to integrate research in our programmatic functions, and are committed to translating research into practice.

Look to this recurring column authored by members of our Research Unit to distill topically relevant and timely OJJDP-supported research for the OJJDP News @ a Glance readership.

Our first Research Central article presents OJJDP-commissioned data on disparities for Latino youth.

OJJDP research has shown that racial and ethnic disparities exist throughout the juvenile justice system; however, there was a need to further examine the nature of the ethnic disparities at arrest, in disposition decision points, in the use of secure detention, and postdisposition and reentry, as well as in relationships with other child-serving systems (such as child welfare and education).

In 2014, OJJDP awarded grants to three research organizations—the University of California Davis, American Institutes for Research (AIR), and Westat—to further investigate how ethnic disparities affect Latino youth’s contact with the juvenile justice system.

Findings from those studies suggest that disparities for Latino youth vary by contact point, severity of offense, gender, and across counties and states. For example, AIR explored data from a 2-year period (2013–2014) for all juvenile justice referrals in Arizona, and examined the state’s Relative Rate Index across eight decision points. The researchers observed that, although Latino youth were not overrepresented in referrals to juvenile court, once referred, they appeared to experience more severe and restrictive treatment than white youth. That treatment included transfers to adult court, preadjudication detention placement, and postdisposition confinement.

AIR’s findings highlight both the complexity and nature of the problem. The researchers identify areas within state and local juvenile justice systems where disproportionality can be addressed, and emphasize the importance of data collection and how applied research can improve the effectiveness and equity of juvenile justice across the country.


The final technical reports on these studies are available on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website. Download Understanding Ethnic Disparities in Juvenile Probation: What Affects Decisions?, An Examination of Ethnic Disparities in Arizona’s Juvenile Justice System, and Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Police Handling of Juvenile Arrests for more on the researchers' findings.