What is an RRI?
As outlined in OJJDP’s Disproportionate Contact Technical Assistance Manual, the first decision point that should be assessed with an RRI Matrix is the arrest decision. Prior to August 2017, the "by race" tables shown in the National DMC Databook included this decision point. With the inclusion of national estimates of delinquency cases involving Hispanic youth, the race groups represented by the arrest data no longer align with the race/ethnicity groups in the delinquency case data. Therefore, the arrest decision point has been removed from the "by race/ethnicity" tables. Referral rates shown in the "by race/ethnicity" section are now calculated by dividing referrals by the youth population (rather than by arrests).
At its simplest, the RRI is a means of comparing the rates of juvenile justice contact experienced by different groups of youth. Let’s consider an example based on the "by race/ethnicity" DMC Matrix. In this table, referral to court is the first decision point assessed. For this decision point, the RRI compares the referral rate for white youth with the referral rate for all racial minorities as a group (and for each racial minority group individually). To calculate a referral rate (or any rate), you need a numerator and a denominator. The referral rate for a racial group uses a measure of the number of court referrals in a year as the numerator and a measure of population as the denominator. Many referral counts could be used depending on the process that one wishes to study (e.g., all referrals, violent crime referrals, drug referrals). 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 referrals for each racial subgroup we wish to study. For our work we used for the numerator delinquency case estimates developed by the National Center for Juvenile Justice which are based on data reported to the National Juvenile Court Data Archive. These estimates include the annual number of delinquency cases handled in juvenile court for the following racial groups: (1) White, (2) Black or African American, (3) American Indian and Alaskan Native, (4) Asian/Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and (5) Hispanic.
Next we need to determine what to use as a denominator. 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. While it is recommended that referral rates should be calculated based on arrests, we know that the race groups available in the national arrest data do not match those found in the court data. While the arrest counts are the preferred denominator for the referral rate in the RRI matrix, it is important to use as a denominator a relevant preceding decision point with compatible race groups. With no arrest step, the denominator for the referral rate is population estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention available in Easy Access to Juvenile Populations (https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezapop/). Since the population and delinquency data share the same race/ethnicity groups, we can proceed with creating a referral rate. Before we proceed, we need to determine what age range to use? The court data captures all cases under juvenile court jurisdiction. As very few delinquency cases involve youth younger than the age of 10, we decided to use as a population base the number of youth age 10 through the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction in each state.
So now we can calculate the referral rates. For simplicity, let's talk about only two: the referral rate for white juveniles and for black juveniles. By dividing their counts of delinquency referrals in 2016 by their age 10 through upper age population in 2016, we find the white referral rate was 21.5 delinquency referrals for every 1,000 white persons ages 10–upper age in the U.S. population, and the black referral rate was 65.1. The Relative Rate Index for court referral is simply the black rate relative to (divided by) the white rate, yielding an RRI of 3.0. This means that the black referral rate in 2016 was more than triple the white rate, documenting a racial disparity at referral. Does this imply a racial bias in the referral process? Not necessarily. There could be many reasons other than racial bias that produced this racial disparity (e.g., different levels of delinquency behavior by white juveniles and black juveniles, differential responses by law enforcement and/or juvenile court decision makers.). All the RRI can say is that disparity exists and additional exploration is needed to determine the source of the difference.
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.