Although space precludes a detailed investigation and review of theoretical accounts of racial/ethnic differences in (serious) offending (Hawkins and Kempf-Leonard, 2005), these differences have been attributed to several risk factors that span the individual, familial, and neighborhood levels. (See Chapter 6 for an explanation of risk factors and risk markers.)10 In general, these can be considered as “contexts for risk” (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2001) so as to not be confused with another set of system-based factors that could also be implicated in disproportionality.
Minorities, especially blacks are more likely than whites to live in economically disadvantaged communities (Sampson and Wilson, 1995). Such communities have distressed education, child welfare, and public health systems (Sharkey and Sampson, 2010; Ryan, Chiu, and Williams, 2011). They also tend to have many social structural conditions that contribute to delinquency, crime, and violence, such as poverty, disorder, residential segregation, and neighborhood disadvantage (Wilson, 1987). These effects tend to compound and accumulate in mainly minority communities so that poor, inner-city residents find it to difficult to move out of this urban core and escape to more affluent neighborhoods that come with improved opportunities for education and employment.11 The ramifications of these minority-centered contexts of risk include poor health care (and subsequent health)12 and substance abuse problems and disparities (Piquero, Moffitt, and Lawton, 2005), low-performing schools, absence of recreation programs or other organized activities for youth (Bishop and Leiber, 2012), disadvantaged familial and community-level socialization and controls (Sampson, Morenoff, and Raudenbush, 2005), and greater exposure to violence and other negative experiences (Crouch et al., 2000). The totality of these risk factors is such that minority youth are born into and raised in severely compromised familial, community, and educational environments that set the stage for a range of adverse behaviors and outcomes, including problems in school, relationships, and engaging in prosocial behavior.
Investigating this phenomenon, Fite and colleagues (2009) noted that differences observed in offending across race/ethnicity (and in subsequent
10 In this chapter, we are using “risk factors” instead of “risk markers” because of its usage by the writers we are citing.
11 Massey and Denton (1993) argue that racial segregation is the principal organizational feature of American society that is responsible for the creation of the urban underclass.
12 For example, based on available Canadian data, youth with fetal alcohol spectrum dis order, an umbrella term that covers the range of outcomes associated with all levels of prenatal alcohol exposure, are 19 times more likely to be incarcerated than are youth without the disorder in a given year (Popova et al., 2011). A similar study has not been done on minority youth in the United States, but, given the high rates of heavy alcohol consumption among African Americans and Native Americans (Galvan and Caetano, 2003), one can infer that minority youth would be at great risk for the disorder.