TCCY Racial & Ethnic Disparities

Causes & Research

Causes and Correlates of Racial & Ethnic Disparities

A common perception is that minority children commit a disproportionate share of all offenses, thus the racial and ethnic disparities. Whether the perception is factual is open to debate. The following are some of the less debatable causes:

  • Poverty;
  • Single-parent families;
  • Segregation and stagnated socialization;
  • Lack of cultural perspective and competence;
  • High minority youth unemployment;
  • Subjective decision-making in the juvenile justice system;
  • Absence of or poor legal representation;
  • Under-representation of ethnic/racial administrative and direct service providers;
  • Lack of education;
  • Overt discrimination and racism.

Research Findings

  • In 2000, African-Americans represented 15 percent of the U.S. population of youth between the ages of 12-17.
  • In Tennessee, 20 percent of the 12-17 population was African-American.
  • In 1990, African-Americans were involved in 31 percent of delinquency cases brought before the court, according to data from the National Juvenile Court Data Archive, indicating that African-American youth are represented disproportionately.
  • In Tennessee, for 2000, African-Americans were involved in 63 percent of the delinquency cases.
  • In 2000, for Tennessee, 70 percent of youth in secure detention centers were African-American.
  • A youth who is detained in a secure facility prior to adjudication is more likely to be subsequently incarcerated. Indeed, preadjudication detention is one of the best predictors of commitment to a State juvenile correctional facility.
  • In 2000, 59 percent of youth transferred to adult court in Tennessee were African-American, 33 percent were White and 8 percent were other minorities.
  • In Tennessee, African-American youth were disproportionately confined in secure juvenile correctional facilities.
  • In 2000, 54 percent of youth in secure juvenile correctional facilities were African-American, 26 percent were white and 20 percent were other minorities.

Without a doubt, minority youth are overrepresented at all stages of the youth justice process. This is especially evident in secure-confinement facilities, with the degree of overrepresentation being lowest at the point of arrest and increasing at each subsequent stage. Although the size of the disproportion varies from state to state, the disproportion exists practically everywhere in America.