nonserious offenders can be treated in the community without endangering public safety.
Information about the number of juveniles in custody—in detention centers, jails, juvenile correctional facilities, or adult correctional facilities—is very poor. Data on the conditions under which juveniles are incarcerated and the types of services available to them are minimal. From the few available data, it appears that the rate of juveniles placed in custodial institutions has increased substantially in the past two decades, leading to widespread overcrowding in detention and other correctional facilities.
The proportion of black juveniles under the supervision of the juvenile or adult criminal justice systems is more than double their proportion in the general population, and these discrepancies exist at most points in justice system processing. The existence of disproportionate racial representation in the juvenile justice system raises questions about fundamental fairness and equality of treatment of these youth by the police, courts, and other personnel connected with the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, what happens to youth in their dealings (or lack of dealings) with the juvenile justice system may have substantial consequences for subsequent development and prospects for the future.
Studies of self-reported offending find that black juveniles report more delinquent behavior than whites, but the difference is not nearly as large as the difference in arrest rates. The question remains of why black juveniles should be more likely to engage in criminal behavior than whites. Such overrepresentation may be at least partially explained by considering how exposure to risk factors affects the probability of engaging in criminal behavior. More minority children, and black children in particular, are subject to risk factors associated with crime, such as living in communities characterized by concentrated poverty and social disorganization.
Differences in behavior cannot explain all the disproportionate representation of blacks in the juvenile justice system. Some research has documented apparent bias at various points, such as likelihood of arrest, pretrial detention, or formal processing. Disproportionate involvement of some minorities in the juvenile and adult justice system cannot be explained without considering the larger society as well as differential behavior and biases in the justice system.