War on Race and the Juvenile Justice System

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The United States was founded on the principles of individual freedom, equality and due process in a democratic society, but in the area of the justice system, these principles have often been challenged. The extended reach of the criminal justice system has been far from uniform in its effects upon different segments of the population. Although the number of women prisoners has increased in recent years at a more rapid pace than men, the criminal justice system as a whole still remains overwhelming male approximately 87 percent. Disproportionate minority representation in the juvenile justice system has been a national policy issue since 1992 when Congress amended the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. The amendments required states participating in the Federal Formula Grants Program to determine the existence of disproportionate minority representation, assess the causes, develop and implement corrective interventions, and evaluate those interventions; and to fund programs addressing gender issues. States that failed to make progress or show good faith efforts towards reducing disproportionate minority representation risked losing one-quarter of their formula grant funds and having to expend the remaining proportion towards achieving progress.

When viewing the juvenile justice system one must view the system as a whole. Not only should it be analyzed as a whole but broken down into different subcultures as race, sex, social class, and so forth to get to the cure of the problem. Social class as well as race plays a major role in the system from the first contact to the end of the process. The earliest known code of laws (the Code of Hammurabi) took specific note of the duties of children to parents and prescribed punishment for violations. As legal systems were elaborated the age of offenders continued to be important in defining responsibility for criminal behavior. English common law, for example held that children under the age of seven were incapable of criminal intent. The legal status of juvenile delinquent is important in defining, but does not fully encompass the social role of juvenile justice.

A youth who has been taken into custody by the police or committed to an institution or other wised disposed of by the court are likely to be defined as a delinquent in his/her community, parents, friends, neighbors and society as a whole. The term delinquent subcultures refer to delinquent behavior with supporting norms, values, and structures which is traditional among members of a group or several groups of youth. Prior research across the country has established that disproportionate minority representation can be attributed to:1) Greater involvement of minority youth in crime, and;2) Inequitable treatment of minority youth during their processing across various decision points of the juvenile justice system. According to the disproportionate minority contact (DMC) proportion of youth of color who pass through the juvenile justice system exceed the proportion of youth of color in the general population.

Disproportionate minority representation becomes increasingly worse as youth of color proceed through the system, as decisions that occur early in the process (i.e., arrest and referral) will increase overrepresentation Research has indicated that the involvement of youth in crime is related to various personal, family and community risk factors and that when these factors are taken into account there are no differences in the amount of crime committed by minority and White youth. However, greater proportions of minority youth than White youth are at risk in socially segregated neighborhoods that can be characterized as areas of concentrated disadvantage. Research findings regarding the processing of youth by the juvenile justice system in different jurisdictions has been mixed. Inequities occur in some jurisdictions but not in others and occur at some decision points but no other decision...
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