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 Racial and Ethnic Disparities (R/ED) Databook

Measuring Disparity
Data Needed to
Measure Disparity
National Data
R/ED Data Sources

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Measuring Disparity

The National R/ED Databook is modeled after OJJDP’s data reporting requirements associated with the racial and ethnic fairness section of the JJDPA’s core requirements. To be eligible to receive funding under Title II, states are required to report counts at various stages of the juvenile justice system, detailed by race/ethnicity. From these counts a series of case processing rates are calculated for each race/ethnicity group. The rates for each racial/ethnic minority group are then compared to the corresponding rate for white youth, resulting in a ratio of case processing rates. This ratio 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" display. In this table, referral to court is the first decision point assessed. For this decision point, the ratio of rates compares the referral rate for white youth with the referral rate for each race/ethnicity group. 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., referrals for any delinquent offense, referrals for violent crimes). 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 race/ethnicity 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 race/ethnicity groups: (1) White, (2) Black or African American, (3) American Indian and Alaska 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. While it is recommended that referral rates should be calculated based on arrests, we know that the race/ethnicity groups available in the national arrest data do not match those found in the juvenile court data (i.e., estimates of arrests involving Hispanic youth are not yet available). While the arrest counts are the preferred denominator for the referral rate, it is important to use as a denominator a relevant preceding decision point with compatible race/ethnicity 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.

Now we can calculate the referral rates. For simplicity, let's talk about only two: the referral rate for white youth and for Black youth. By dividing their counts of delinquency referrals in 2020 by their age 10 through upper age population in 2020, we find the white referral rate was 12.9 delinquency referrals for every 1,000 white youth ages 10–upper age in the U.S. population, and the Black referral rate was 36.2. The ratio of rates at the court referral stage is simply the Black rate divided by the white rate, yielding a ratio of 2.8. This means that the Black referral rate in 2020 was nearly three times the white rate, documenting a 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 disparity (e.g., different levels of delinquency behavior by white youth and Black youth, differential responses by law enforcement and/or juvenile court decision makers). All that can be said 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.