juvenile held in public and private residential juvenile facilities across the United States on a given day. According to the most recent survey, from more than 70,000 records, about 47 percent of youth confined to residential placement had been there for 60 days or less and 28 percent had been there between 61 and 180 days. Only 8 percent had been in the facility for more than a year (Sickmund, Sladky, and Kang, 2011). This percentage breakdown in days because admission has been fairly constant across the biennial survey since 1997. However, the number of juveniles in out-of-home placement at the time of the survey has steadily declined from 105,055 in 1997 to 70,792 in 2010.

Relationship Between Detention, Disposition, and Race

In 2008, the likelihood of formal handling was higher for cases involving black youth (61 percent) than for cases involving white youth (53 percent) (see Table 3-6). The largest discrepancy was for drug cases, in which black youth were significantly more likely to be handled formally than were white youth (70 versus 54 percent). Detention was used slightly more in cases involving black youth (25 percent) than white youth (19 percent) or youth of other races (22 percent). The use of detention was relatively unchanged from 1985 to 2008 for white youth but has declined for black youth (see Table 3-7).

In 2008, cases involving black youth were less likely to result in adjudication once petitioned. Even in cases involving drug charges, cases of black youth were less frequently adjudicated than those of white youth (59 compared with 64 percent). The bias in favor of white youth returned, however, at the dispositional stage. In all offense categories, cases involving black youth were more likely to end in out-of-home placement (32 versus 26 percent), and once again the difference was most striking in drug law violation cases (35 versus 19 percent).


The juvenile justice system is a complex, interorganizational setting (Cicourel, 1967; Hasenfeld and Cheung, 1985; Jacobs, 1990; Stapleton, 1993). Part of the reason for this complexity is that there is no single system of juvenile justice, but a multitude of systems to consider (Singer, 1996). The juvenile justice system is not a place or an organization. It is not a courthouse, a detention center, or a reformatory. The juvenile justice system includes all of these entities—and much more. The system encompasses all of the organizations, institutions, and individuals responsible for handling acts of juvenile delinquency, from the moment a juvenile offense is observed or reported to the final delivery of services, sanctions, and follow-up super-

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