Youth of color are overrepresented in many aspects of the juvenile justice system from arrest to court referral and confinement.  A core requirement of federal juvenile justice policy (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002) requires each state to identify where disparities may exist across various juvenile justice decision points. Where disparities are identified, the states must complete self-assessments informed by comprehensive data and use this research to develop solutions. The monitoring task begins with understanding federal policy for identifying racial and ethnic groups and exploring what national juvenile arrest data can tell us. Of equal importance is charting state progress toward transparently reporting meaningful fairness indicators to the public, conducting more detailed self-assessments and advancing specific strategies to improve racial and ethnic fairness at the local-level.

Populations

The White House establishes policy on minimum race and ethnicity categories with a framework that is disseminated in an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular. All federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau for the decennial Census must follow the OMB requirements for collecting information on the most basic race and ethnic combinations. These categories influence everything from civil rights monitoring, to education and health planning and fairness in the juvenile justice system and the categories change over time and are likely to be revised once again in advance of the 2020 Census.

The current policy for minimum reporting establishes 5 minimum race categories and 2 ethnicity options of Hispanic or Latino or not Hispanic or Latino. Thus a key principle for juvenile justice data collection is to collect race and ethnicity data as separate data items or variables.

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Population change

The U.S. population will grow and become more diverse through mid-century. The juvenile population will continue to grow and become more diverse. The white proportion of the juvenile population ages 10 to 17 is projected to decrease from 53% in 2015 to 37% in 2060, with Hispanic and Latino youth and multi-race youth experiencing the greatest increases.

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Monitoring methods

Since 1988, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act has required ongoing state monitoring of disparities that may indicate biased decision-making in juvenile justice. Measurement activities initially focused on youth in secure confinement, but later recognized that disparities may also be the result of earlier steps in the juvenile justice system involving the decisions of law enforcement, prosecutors and juvenile court judges to divert youth from advancing deeper into the juvenile justice system. During this period two approaches to measuring vital signs in this area emerged.

The current JJDP Act requires the relative rate index (RRI) to measure disparities in the juvenile justice system. It addresses the contributions between 9 key decision points spanning arrest, court and custody events and transfer to criminal court. However, it also involves gathering data from multiple agencies' administrative systems. These systems vary in their capacity across and within states and may not contain the geographic detail necessary to identify jurisdictions with symptoms of a problem requiring deeper exploration and detail.

An earlier method that still has some merit for state or county reporting is called the disproportionate representation index (DRI). DRI's are easier to develop and explain but mask the contribution of each decision to the cumulative problem of overrepresentation of youth in secure settings which the RRI indicator was developed to address.

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Using national data collections to develop indicators

There is no national data collection specifically designed to monitor vital signs on racial and ethnic fairness at the state-level. However, existing collections can be applied in a interim way to advance discussions. The preferred RRI indicator is easily available for a national snapshot on the issue but lacks the ability to drill into the state or local details necessary for focusing reform advocacy. Simple rates are common per-capita metrics available at the state-level, but with many limitations. Inconsistent ethnicity reporting presents a challenge regardless of approach, leading to a possible over count of white youth in the juvenile justice system which distort White-to-Hispanic/Latino ratios but also impact RRI metrics for other groups.

 Relative rates

Relative rate index (RRI)

Simple rates

Disproportionate representation index (DRI)

Data sources
  1. Easy Access to Juvenile Populations
  2. Easy Access to FBI Arrest Statistics (based on national estimates files)
  3. National Juvenile Court Data Archive
  1. Easy Access to Juvenile Populations
  2. FBI arrest statistics, sample-based file
  3. Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement
Precision Relative rate sophistication across 9 decision points Simple, per-capita rates for 3 decision points
Geography Easily available at the national-level Easily available at the state-level
Race/ethnicity Available for several race categories but lacks accurate Hispanic or Latino ethnicity Available for several race categories and ethnicity for 2 of 3 simple rate measures

Reported data

There are different ways for racial and ethnic fairness indicator data to be reported by states. However, twenty-five years into a reporting requirement, indicators are difficult for the average person to obtain. Most states report directly to OJJDP, but a handful of progressive states advance the federal requirement to report RRIs by annually releasing them in public facing websites that address the aims of transparency and continuous monitoring for improvements or slip.  A few take an additional step of publishing RRIs on interactive websites which encourage exploration. Other states publish indicators and sometimes much more with point-in-time assessment research that is also required by OJJDP. Some states do both. 

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    DMC Coordinator

    An additional federal requirement is a staff person designated to advance racial and ethnic fairness reporting and improvement plans called Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Coordinators. Sometimes the positions are full-time posts but can also be part-time positions. In recent years fewer states have dedicated a full-time state position for advancing racial and ethnic fairness in juvenile justice.

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      VT NH MA RI CT NJ DE MD DC AL AK AZ AR CA CO FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA SC SD TN TX UT VA WA WV WI WY

      Progressive data

      While the JJDP Act has required states to monitor disparities in the juvenile justice system, few states actually publish their results publicly.  Most states report to the federal juvenile justice agency only.  A few states have taken a progressive approach by creating interactive online dashboards, in addition to published reports, which allow users to explore DMC indicators across juvenile justice decision points.

      Click a state to see a summary of its policies and more information.

      About this project

      Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice, Statistics) is a project to develop a repository providing state policy makers and system stakeholders with a clear understanding of the juvenile justice landscape in the states.

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