discussion to other explanations that either do not fit neatly into either of those two perspectives or may have relevance for both.


Accounts of DMC typically fall into one of two broad camps. Some scholars emphasize differential offending as the root source of disproportionate minority involvement in the juvenile justice system and of the system’s differential response. This approach points, in effect, to real, underlying differences between white and minority youth in the actual extent of engaging in (or the severity of) law-breaking behaviors. Other researchers point to differential selection by the justice system (by the police in enforcement and by prosecutors, intake officers, judges, and other justice system officials thereafter) as the primary source of racial disparities. As discussed below, findings of differential selection have sometimes been interpreted as demonstrating systematic and often institutional bias, but differential enforcement and justice system processing are not necessarily or always attributable to bias or discrimination.

Differential Offending

As referenced by Lauritsen (2005), there are more similarities than differences among youth across races with respect to offending patterns in self-reported data, with the exception of participation in serious violence. As noted, minority youth (especially black youth)9 tend to offend more with respect to serious person crimes, and they have also been found to persist in crime into early adulthood at a higher rate than whites (Elliott, 1994; Haynie, Weiss, and Piquero, 2008). This finding is important because research shows that serious violence is more likely to be reported to the police, more likely to result in the offender’s apprehension, and more likely to trigger severe juvenile and criminal justice sanctions (Piquero, 2008a, p. 64). And although research shows that much of the minority overrepresentation in secure confinement and prisons can be attributed to differences among racial groups in arrests for crimes that are most likely to lead to confinement, this same research also shows that it is unlikely that behavioral differences account for all minority overrepresentation (Blumstein, 1982, 1993; Crutchfield, Bridges, and Pitchford, 1994; Sorensen, Hope, and Stemen, 2003).


9 As previously noted, most disparity research is limited to comparisons between whites and blacks, largely because of the lack of data for Hispanics, Asian Americans, and American Indians in both self-reported and especially official records. The intersection of race and gender is even less frequently studied despite the rapid growth of black girls in the juvenile justice system (Sherman, 2012, p. 1617).

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