The second column of Table 6-5 shows relative compound risk, which is the ratio of the compound probabilities. The relative compound risk for a black juvenile being handled formally in relation to a white is:

As this example shows, the relative risk for being handled formally in the courts by blacks is 1.15 to 1; it rises to 2.82 to 1 when compounding is taken into account.

Black juveniles are at greater risk than white juveniles of being arrested, charged for delinquency, and handled formally. They are not at greater risk, given formal handling, for being adjudicated delinquent or found guilty. Thus, at almost every stage in the juvenile justice process the racial disparity is clear, but not extreme. However, because the system operates cumulatively the risk is compounded and the end result is that black juveniles are three times as likely as white juveniles to end up in residential placement (see Table 6-5). Even among those juveniles who are arrested, blacks are more than one and a half times as likely as whites to end up in residential placement.

Some of this overrepresentation of blacks in correctional institutions and justice system residential placements may be accounted for by differences in treatment of blacks and whites at various stages of juvenile justice system processing. Other forms of differential treatment, too, may contribute to the overrepresentation of blacks in secure juvenile justice facilities. For example, some juveniles who steal or commit assault are sent to mental hospitals for treatment of their behavior; others who exhibit similar behaviors are confined in the juvenile justice system.

A comparison of two samples of adolescents, one sent to a correctional facility and the other admitted to a state psychiatric hospital, in one urban area during a one-year time period found that the most powerful distinguishing factor between the two groups was race: 71 percent of the hospitalized youth were white, whereas 67 percent of the incarcerated adolescents were black. The authors noted that “clinical and epidemiological findings indicate clearly that many seriously psychiatrically disturbed, aggressive African American adolescents are being channeled to correctional facilities while their equally aggressive white counterparts are directed toward psychiatric treatment facilities” (Lewis et al., 1980:1216).

Three additional considerations should be noted in accounting for the overrepresentation of blacks in the criminal justice system. Hawkins (1998) has suggested that one of the reasons for the disproportionate pres-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement