Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

A REFUTATION OF RACIAL DIFFERENTIALS IN THE JUVENILE RECIDIVISM RATE HYPOTHESIS[dagger]

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

A REFUTATION OF RACIAL DIFFERENTIALS IN THE JUVENILE RECIDIVISM RATE HYPOTHESIS[dagger]

Article excerpt

Abstract:

It has repeatedly been argued that race is an important predictor of juvenile recidivism, invariably with black offenders having significantly higher odds of recidivating than white offenders (DeComo, 1998; Strom, 2000; Benda, 2001; Langan & Levin, 2002; Harms, 2003; Pope and Snyder, 2003; Puzzanchera, 2003; Stahl, 2003). This study refutes that assertion. Using data from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections in the state of Louisiana, a total of 2,810 juvenile offenders released in the 1999/2000 fiscal year were examined and a socio-demographic profile of those who were returned into the correctional system one year post release was established. The results failed to show a statistically significant difference in the likelihood of recidivating between black offenders and white offenders, leading to a conclusion that race is not an important predictor of juvenile recidivism.

Background

One of the biggest challenges facing society today is the problem of juvenile offending. Nationwide, violent crimes are being committed by younger and younger persons and are even increasing among middle-class youth in suburban neighborhoods and communities (Durant, 1999:268). But the delinquency and recidivism of young offenders can be predicted and hence prevented. However, the methods most often used to do so conventionally derive from stereotypical conceptions, which often may not stand any scientific verification. The result is that they yield very low accuracy levels, only a little above chance. The best way to determine whether a particular characteristic is related to recidivism is to compare the recidivism rates of offenders with that characteristic (Hanson, 2000). Understanding juvenile recidivism is crucial for the development of effective policy responses to the broader ramifications of juvenile reoffense. Since a small proportion of offenders is responsible for a very large proportion of offenses (Farrington and West, 1993) there is need to address juvenile reoffending within the milieu of the specific factors that truly predict the reoffending behavior. The current juvenile justice system is imbued with operational and structural problems that necessitate a new type of risk assessment for reoffending, which should be based on an updated profile of clients that frequent juvenile custody and supervision facilities. The goal of this study was to find out whether, all other things being equal, race would be a major determinant of the likelihood of juvenile recidivating.

Review of Literature

Recidivism is widely used to refer to reoffending within a specified period of time after release from a correctional facility. The duration taken between the time of discharge and reoffending is not constant, but has to be specified depending on the needs, constraints, or other circumstances of the research in question. In the current case, the recidivism of the study subjects was tracked for one year after release. The rationale for the decision to consider only one year was that almost 70% of all the recidivism in the first three years takes place within the first year (Langan & Levin, 2002:3). There are multiple methods of defining recidivism. Maltz (1984) identifies at least fourteen of them, with the most common ones being rearrest, reconviction, resentence, and any type of return to prison with or without a new sentence. Arrests and convictions have been the most widely used measures and the main reason for this is their relative ease of measurement because they require no active cooperation of subjects (Greenwood, et. al., 1993). However, some studies have used all four measurements in combinations (Klein & Caggiano, 1986; Langan & Levin, 2002). Whatever the measure that is chosel, it has been shown that recidivism is not a chance event, but can be predicted using certain variables (Klein & Caggiano, 1986; Florida Department of Corrections, 2001).

Juvenile justice policy-makers routinely make use of recidivism as the central means of evaluating rehabilitation programs (Piper & Warner, 1980/81; Maltz, 1984; Eottfredson & Tolry, 1987; Florida Department of Corrections, 2001; Sharkey, et al. …

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