Juvenile Justice Practices Series

Community influence can have a major affect on the likelihood of delinquency and juvenile justice outcomes. Factors that influence the likelihood of involvement include family history of legal involvement, a past history of detention placement, and lack of private insurance or financial resources. Access to services including legal advocacy, mental health and substance abuse treatment are often identified as a problem area for low income youth and families and minority youth.

In the report “Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform, Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention” (Eleanor Hoytt, 2002), the Annie Casey Foundation states that the causes of disproportionate minority confinement can be attributed in part to the social and economic context of the youth’s life in addition to inequities in housing, education and employment. The issue of minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system is a well documented national problem.

While we are not always sure exactly why minority youth are involved and detained more frequently than white youth, research by Carl Pope (Pope, 1996) found that a “race effect” exists in the juvenile justice system that negatively affects outcomes for minority youth. When race effects occur at various points in the system, the result is an accumulation of negative outcomes for minority youth as they move deeper into the system. The data and studies from throughout the nation clearly indicate racial disparity in the juvenile justice system.

Disparities in the “deep end” of the system begin with decisions made earlier on in the system. According to the Annie Casey Foundation, 4 out of 5 youth detained in the United States between 1983 and 1997 were youth of color (Eleanor Hoytt, 2002)  In 1997-98 African American youth represented 15% of the total youth population yet 44% of the youth detained. Juvenile delinquency is complicated with the array of factors that lead to a child to engage in such behavior.

Unfortunately, minority youth often have more of the risk factors associated with legal involvement. These risk factors include poverty and lack of educational resources. Many states are b beginning to focus on prevention and rehabilitation programs that address these social and economic factors that contribute. Families, peers, schools, neighborhoods and status can also be linked to delinquency causes as well prevention. All of these factors must be considered in the response to delinquency and minority overrepresentation.

Women are an invisible group in prisons in the Untied States. Most people don’t think of the large and increasing numbers of incarcerated women, or of their children. It is not the normal image of women in our society. Aside form the high profile cases covered in the media, the problems and circumstance of female prisoners has not been given much attention until recently. The number of women in the prison system has tripled in the last ten years (Zamble 2002). Women are the fastest growing prison population.

The reason for this is fairly clear. The crimes committed by these women are generally substance abuse related and with mandatory sentencing, prison is required (Roberts 2001). The complicated factor in many of these women life is the history of trauma and co-existing mental health problems. Surveys of women in prison have shown numbers as high as eight percent of them with a history of sexual and or physical abuse (Messina 2006). The recurring themes in the lives of these women are lack of education, unemployment, single mothers and poverty.

Approximately 66% of these women have children. Once again we see the overrepresentation of minorities. Women were 6. 6% of the State prison inmates in 2001. Almost two thirds of the women are minorities (Messina 2006). Developing programs to identify and begin treatment of these women while in prison, or diverting them from prison all together is key. Programs must have a component for assessing issues of past abuse that may hold the key to the substance abuse and in tern the poor education and employment histories of these women (Wolf 2006).

The Untied States has experienced an explosive increase in the criminal justice system linked to problems liked to poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse among other societal factors. It appears from the data and the research that the Unites States will need to examine alternatives to have an effect on crime prevention and the issue of minority overrepresentation in the system (Nena Messina, 2006). Studies and research has shown that the types of programs needed are similar in nature and design, though may need to be adjusted depending on the particular problems of a group or individual.

Rehabilitative programs that begin to assess and treat people in prison and then link them to services in the community is at the present, the best hope of impacting the crime rate and recidivism (Poe, 2000). While rehabilitative programs are being developed to work with those juveniles and adults already involved in the system, the long term strategies needed to impact overrepresentation include education and job opportunities. Assuring that minority youth have access to schools that adequate prepare them for a meaningful career is extremely important.

Helping families move out of poverty and away from environments plagued by substance abuse and crime can have a long term impact on crime in general and of  the overrepresentation of minorities in our detention centers, jails and prisons (Poe, 2000)


Eleanor Hoytt, V. S. (2002). Reducing Racial Disparities. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation. Flores, R. (2003). Juvenile Justice Practices Series Aftercare Services. Washington, D. C. : OJJDP. King, M. M. (2007). Uneven Justice: State Rates if Incarceration. Washington, D. C. : The Sentencing Project. Nena Messina, W. B. (2006).

Predictors of Prison-Based Treatment Outcomes: a Comparison of Men and Women. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse , 69-80. Olson, M. (2003). Kids in the Hole-Juvenile Offender. Washington, D. C. : OJJDP. Poe, E. (2000). And Justice for Some. Building Blocks for Youth. Pope, C. (1996). Race Effects in Juvenile Justice Decision-Making. The Journal of Criminal Justice and Criminaology , 392-414. Wolf, A. (2006). Reducing the Incarceration of Wome: Community Based ALternatives. National Council on Crime. Zamble, E. (2002). The Criminal Recidivism Process. Boston, Mass: Cambridege University Press.