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A good deal of research has noted major disparities in the extent of involvement of minority youth, particularly black youth compared with white youth, in the juvenile justice system. The existence of disproportionate racial representation in the juvenile justice system raises questions about the 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 with the juvenile justice system may have substantial consequences for subsequent developments on this issue in the future. This report is designed to bring together divergent streams of research and scholarly discourse in an attempt to highlight some key issues and to move the field ahead by suggesting useful ways of thinking about race, juvenile crime, and the juvenile justice system in the future.
There is considerable confusion and variation in the meanings of terms used to examine and describe the racial disparity in the juvenile justice system. This confusion has contributed to the tendency to attribute all racial differences in juvenile justice outcomes to prejudice and bigotry. Therefore, it is important to define the terms being used in this report. Disparity and disproportionate will refer to situations in which minority group members are either under or over represented relative to their proportion in the general population. There is no determined and unanimous judgment about the causes of the disparities. They may stem from differences in actual behavior, or from decision making within the juvenile justice system, including legitimate and extralegal factors.
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