To help reduce disparities at the stage of arrest, as well as to reduce the total number of arrests, many communities conduct training programs for law enforcement that help police develop skills that allow for more positive interactions with young people, especially those of color. This has been an explicit priority of federal policy since 1988, when the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was amended. The disproportionate confinement of minorities became a fundamental requirement, and 25 percent of states were in favor. Despite this, there has been little progress in reducing disparities over the past two decades.
This is due to a lack of motivation from decision makers to address the issue, as well as negative stereotypes and media images about minority youth that can influence their treatment from the police and other actors in the juvenile justice system. Statistics on arrests, surveys on criminal victimization among the population, and self-report surveys and questionnaires administered to young people are all potential sources of data on racial disparity in the juvenile justice system. However, each source has its own limitations. For example, black youth are disproportionately arrested for property crimes such as robbery and motor vehicle theft, although they only make up 16 percent of all young people.
They are also overrepresented in violent crime, but to a lesser degree than property crime. The only category in which black youth are underrepresented is alcohol-related offenses (6 percent of arrests). Research on self-report and victimization data has been conducted to examine factors that could affect the disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) at the level of police contact and judicial referral. Huizinga and colleagues (200) used data from three crime studies conducted in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Rochester (New York) and Seattle (Washington).
Bersani (201) used self-report data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Youth Survey (NLSY9) and official crime reports. In addition to disproportionate arrests, minority youth also tend to stay in the system longer than white youth. Graham and Lowery (200) conducted two experiments in Los Angeles with police officers and juvenile probation officers to examine unconscious racial stereotypes of decision makers in the juvenile justice system. Bishop and Leiber (201) suggest that while there is little evidence that the police are overtly biased, they often do not have adequate information on which to base their decisions.
To reduce racial disparity in the juvenile justice system, it is important to address both differential crime and differential selection by the judicial system. This can be done by providing training programs for law enforcement that help them develop skills for more positive interactions with young people, especially those of color. It is also important to address negative stereotypes and media images about minority youth that can influence their treatment from the police and other actors in the juvenile justice system.