Decision Making and Juvenile Justice: An Analysis of Bias in Case Processing

Decision Making and Juvenile Justice: An Analysis of Bias in Case Processing

Decision Making and Juvenile Justice: An Analysis of Bias in Case Processing

Decision Making and Juvenile Justice: An Analysis of Bias in Case Processing

Synopsis

Based on a comprehensive study of three counties in Texas, this work examines the idea of differential handling of minority youth offenders. Traditional wisdom indicates that minorities are over-represented in the juvenile justice system due to racism and discrimination within the system itself. The author refutes this logic by challenging current studies and examining the results of the Texas study. The findings suggest that minorities are represented in the juvenile justice system in greater numbers than their majority offender counterparts due to their greater involvement in criminal activity, not to any differential treatment they may receive at crucial decision points within the system. This highly controversial study argues for a more thorough examination of the problem as well as the methodologies employed to examine and address it.

Excerpt

1

The overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal and juvenile justice systems is an issue that arises again and again in the popular media and the scholarly literature (albeit, more so in the media). The explanation usually proffered for the racial and ethnic disparities in criminal justice data is that the agents of the criminal justice system are biased and discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities. It is argued, quite simply, that minorities are targeted for arrest, prosecution, conviction, and subsequent imprisonment merely because they are persons of color. The issue has recently been addressed by R. Clegg in a thought-provoking article (Legal Times, 17 July 2000). Clegg notes that:

No one disagrees that a disproportionate number of African Americans are arrested, tried, and convicted of crimes. But, there are two ways to explain this fact. It might be argued that it results entirely from discrimination in the criminal justice system: that whites are just as likely to commit crimes, but that police, prosecutors, and juries are all looking the other way. Or it may be claimed that there is no discrimination in the system and that the disparity results entirely from more lawbreaking among blacks.

Of course, the situation is not this simple. To be sure, the issue of race/ethnicity and possible systemic biases in the criminal justice decisionmaking process is very important and the dynamics are certainly complex. Unfortunately, prior research has generally not addressed this issue in a sufficiently rigorous fashion, and consequently, a highly inconsistent and

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