The overrepresentation of minority youth has been well documented in the juvenile justice system. National-level government attention focused on the concept of “dispro- portionate minority confinement” in 1988, with amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDP Act) that compelled states to evaluate and address the overrepresentation of youth of color in locked facilities. A 2002 amendment to the JJDP Act strengthens this legislation, oblig- ing states to attend to disproportionate minority involvement in all stages of juvenile justice processing. In assessing overrepresentation, all states found some degree of disparity between the number of minority youth in the population and the number involved in the various phases of processing.
In particular, African American males have long been arrested, detained, and incarcerated disproportionately. Figures 16.1a and 16.1b provide an overview of delinquency referrals and detentions between 1988 and 1997 for African American and White youth. While racial disparity in juvenile justice has decreased somewhat in the past 2 decades, 2003 statistics indicate that African American youths composed 53% of arrests for person offenses and 28% of arrests for property offenses, but only 16% of the youth popula- tion. National data do not show overrepresentation in arrests for American Indian and Asian youth, although state-by-state data indicate that these youth are overrepresented in some state juvenile justice systems. It is important to note that official data collection tends to categorize youth arrests by race rather than ethnicity, meaning that most Latinos are designated “White,” and thus rates of arrest among Latinos cannot be accurately estimated. Data collection to capture the ethnic diversity of each state is improving, however, as a result of new funding requirements through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) formula grants. In addition, some researchers cited in this section have gathered data about a variety of ethnic groups, not only Whites and African Americans.