U.S. Department of Justice, Office Of Justice Programs, Innovation - Partnerships - Safer Neighborhoods
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Serving Children, Families, and Communities

National Disproportionate Minority Contact Databook

What is an RRI?
an RRI Matrix
National RRIs
Subnational RRIs
DMC Data Sources

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What is an RRI?

At its simplest, the RRI is a means of comparing the rates of juvenile justice contact experienced by different groups of youth. The RRI is best explained by example. For the DMC Databook, the first decision point that is assessed with an RRI Matrix is the arrest decision. For this decision point, the RRI compares the arrest rate for white youth with the arrest rate for all racial minorities as a group (and for each racial minority group individually). To calculate an arrest rate (or any rate), you need a numerator and a denominator. Typically an arrest rate for a racial group uses a measure of their arrests in a year as the numerator and a measure of population as the denominator. Many arrest counts could be used depending on the process that one wishes to study (e.g., all arrests, violent crime arrests, drug arrests). Let's assume we want to study the juvenile justice system's handling of all delinquency matters as a whole, so we must find a count of all delinquency arrests for each racial subgroup we wish to study.

At times, what we want and what is available may not be the same. The production of an RRI or the RRI Matrix is always limited by the quality of available data. For our work we used arrest estimates developed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which are based on data reported to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. These estimates include the annual number of delinquency arrests for persons under age 18 for the following racial groups:(1) White, (2) Black or African American, (3) American Indian and Alaskan Native, and (4) Asian/Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. With these data it was not possible to study racial disparities in arrest experiences involving Hispanic youth because the available data did not support this distinction (Hispanic identity). So we are limited to the four racial groupings. For the denominator we used population estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention available in Easy Access to Juvenile Populations (http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezapop/). The question we had here was what population we should use in the denominator. Certainly we should match the racial group to the racial group in the numerator, but what age range should we use? The arrest data captures arrests for all persons under age 18, so we could use their population counts as the denominator; but that seemed somewhat problematic because very few persons under the age of 10 are arrested in the U.S. So we chose to use as a population base ages 10 through 17. It would not have been "wrong" to use 0 to 17; we chose 10 to 17.

So now we can calculate the arrest rates. For simplicity, let's talk about only two: the arrest rate for white juveniles and for black juveniles. By dividing their counts of delinquency arrests in 2013 by their 10 to 17 population in 2013, we find the white arrest rate was 32.2 arrests for every 1,000 white persons ages 10-17 in the U.S. population, and the black arrest rate was 73.8. The Relative Rate Index for arrest is simply the black rate divided by the white rate, yielding an RRI of 2.3. This means that the black arrest rate in 2013 was more than double the white rate, documenting a racial disparity at arrest. Does this imply a racial bias in the arrest process? Not necessarily. There could be many reasons other than racial bias that produced this racial disparity at arrest (e.g., different levels of delinquency behavior by white juveniles and black juveniles). All the RRI can say is that disparity exists and additional exploration is needed to determine the source of the bias.

Developed and maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, with funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.