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About Minority Over-representation

 

What is minority over-representation?

When we say that minorities are over-represented in the juvenile justice system, we mean that the proportion of minority youths in the juvenile justice system is greater than the proportion of minority youths in the general population. For example, two percent of youths in Oregon's population are African American. If eight percent of the youths in Oregon Youth Authority closed custody are African American, then African American youths are over-represented in the closed custody population.

The terms "racial disparity" or "discrimination" are sometimes used interchangeably with minority over-representation. However, each term has distinct meaning.

  • Over-representation is a term used to compare the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in a particular population (e.g., the juvenile justice system) with the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in the general population (e.g., county or state). If there is a larger percentage of minorities in the particular population than the general population, we say minorities are "over-represented" in the particular population, or that the minority population is disproportionately large. The fact that disproportion exists does not tell us why minorities are over-represented in the particular population.
  • Racial disparity describes a pattern of outcomes in which some racial groups are treated differently from others. Statistics show that certain outcomes are more likely to occur for individuals of particular racial or ethnic backgrounds. Racially disparate outcomes may occur at one or more decision points in the juvenile justice system, such as arrest, intake, prosecution, and sentencing. For example, if minority youth are more likely to receive detention than non-minority youth for the same offense, then racial disparity in sentencing exists. If we can identify which stages of the juvenile justice system produce racially disparate outcomes, we can more easily investigate why disparity exists. Still, racial disparity itself does not explain why outcomes vary by race or ethnicity.
  • Discrimination is one possible explanation for racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. Other factors that may contribute to minority over-representation are described below.

 

Oregon DMC Quick Facts

Oregon Commission on Children & Families
 Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee

Oregon 2003 2008 Disproportionate Minority Contact Relative Rate Index (RRI)

Relative Rate Index (RRI) method involves comparing the relative volume (rate) of activity for each major stage of the juvenile justice system for minority youth with the volume of that activity for white (majority) youth. RRI provides a single index number that indicates the extent to which the volume of that form of contact or activity differs for minority and white youth.

Referrals

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

African American/
Black

2.38

2.45

2.91

2.56

2.48

2.30

Hispanic/
Latino

1.25

1.20

1.71

1.09

1.27

1.23

Native American

1.38

1.28

1.59

1.35

1.38

1.43

 Secure Detention

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

African American/
Black

1.08

1.15

1.24

1.43

1.34

1.27

Hispanic/
Latino

1.00

1.09

n/a

1.19

1.25

1.23

Native American

1.80

1.85

2.41

2.45

1.97

1.88

 Secure Confinement OYA Facilities

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

African American/
Black

0.21

1.71

1.48

2.04

2.62

2.59

Hispanic/
Latino

1.42

n/a

1.16

1.19

1.39

1.51

Native American

n/a

n/a

0.37

1.42

n/a

1.56

 Cases Transferred to Adult Court

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

African American/
Black

3.66

4.29

4.11

3.57

2.87

4.07

Hispanic/
Latino

1.39

1.72

2.17

1.98

n/a

2.27

Native American

1.84

n/a

1.86

n/a

n/a

n/a

Data sources and notes:

  • 2003 2007 data from Easy Access to Juvenile Populations, OJJDP

  • 2003-2008 Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS) Reports

  • n/a means that data is either not statistically significant or insufficient number of cases for analysis

 

Oregon 2003 2008 Disproportionate Minority Contact Data Conclusions

  1. As a State, Oregon has substantial evidence of disproportionate minority contact (DMC), with African-American youth, Hispanic youth, and Native American youth experiencing significantly higher levels of contact with the juvenile justice system.

  2. The experiences of each of these three major racial / ethnic groups of non-white youth are different from one another, with African American youth most likely to experience higher rates of initial contact (referral). Both African-American youth and Hispanic youth have their highest RRI scores (greatest disparities) at the stage of placement into secure confinement. Native youth on the other hand experience their highest disparities at the stage of detention and the filing of a formal petition of delinquency.  In other words, the likely contributors to DMC, the mechanisms which crate the disparities, and therefore the action steps needed to address DMC, are substantively different for these three groups.

  3. The current strategy selected by Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC) for addressing DMC is to focus on several significant communities with the highest relative population of African American and Hispanic youth.  This strategy is based on the concentrations of these populations in relatively specific (and urbanized) segments of the State.  On the other hand, an alternative strategy to address DMC for Native American youth in rural areas of the State needs to be developed.

  4. While the Statewide information supports a priority to be placed on DMC, examination of the specific patterns within each of the major counties indicates that the patterns of DMC are not uniform across those counties.  In other words, a specific analysis of the DMC issue and a solution for Multnomah County is unlikely to be applicable in other communities in which DMC is located at different stages of the juvenile justice community.  Moreover, the fundamental rates of contact and the statistical indicators of the operation of the juvenile justice system differ across counties.  It is therefore necessary to conduct assessment activities and provide support for DMC reduction efforts within each major jurisdiction rather than providing a single Statewide solution.

 For more information contact Anya Sekino, State DMC Coordinator, OCCF, via phone at 503-378-5115 or email at anya.sekino@state.or.us

 

Why are minorities over-represented in Oregon's juvenile justice system?

Minority over-representation is a complex social problem with multiple causes. Recent studies help explain how decisions at each stage of the juvenile justice system contribute to the over-representation of minority youth. The annual Governor's Summit brings together the people behind those decisions to work on solutions.

Factors that contribute to minority over-representation include:

  • Statutory mandates
  • Patterns of crime
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Inadequate preventative social services
  • Law enforcement practices and policies
  • Communication barriers
  • Inadequate cross-cultural competency training
  • Lack of culturally appropriate resources, placements, and services
  • Bias of decision makers

Statutory mandates. Changes in laws that either de-criminalize behaviors or criminalize additional offenses can affect the number of people arrested. Between April 1995 and March 1997, for example, 1,045 youths were charged with Measure 11 offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes. Among them, 68% were white, 15% Hispanic, 11% African American, 4% Asian, and 2% Native American. All four minority groups were over-represented.

Patterns of crimes. Some argue that if youth of color commit proportionately more crime than White youth, are involved in more serious incidents, and have more extensive criminal histories, they will be over-represented in secure facilities, even if system decision-makers engage in no discrimination. While some studies have found that youth of color fit such a profile, the differential is not high enough to account for the huge difference in incarceration rates between the two groups. (Donde) Moreover, such findings beg the question of why youths of color commit more crimes or are involved in more serious incidents.

Lower socioeconomic status. Youth of color are more likely than White youth to experience conditions that increase the risk for delinquent behavior, such as joblessness, higher housing density, poor health care, and less access to preventative social services. The community in which the juvenile lives has a stronger effect on likelihood of becoming involved in delinquency than racial characteristics. (Roscoe & Morton, 1994) (Donde)

Inadequate preventative social services. As discussed in the Strategic Plan for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Multnomah County (October 1998), many teenagers, particularly youth of color, are profoundly pessimistic about their futures as individuals and as a group. Threats include the accessibility of guns and drugs, prevalent culture of violence, unwillingness of some families and communities to take responsibility for raising children, particularly "difficult" children. The report identifies several significant gaps in Multnomah County's juvenile justice system, including alcohol and drug services, mental health services, programming specifically suited to youth of color and girls, ability of schools to deal with troubled kids, juvenile violence prevention efforts, positive adult role models in the lives of troubled youth, and the availability of after-school activities.

Law enforcement practices and policies. Racial profiling has received heightened attention in recent years as a likely cause of minority over-representation. A report by the Multnomah Task Force on Over-representation Working Group (2000) identifies several factors that affect patterns of arrest by law enforcement. While not specific to the juvenile justice system, the broad scope of factors affecting the likelihood of any given arrest suggests that racial profiling is only part of the picture. Race and ethnicity may play a role in one or more of the following factors:

  • Community complaints. Community complaints about prostitution, street-level drug dealing, speeding traffic, etc. lead to missions for increased enforcement. Each community or neighborhood makes unique requests for police services, in part based on crimes that they perceive more dramatically affect their quality of life (street level drug dealing, street prostitution, traffic speeding, etc.), rather than crimes that the community perceives as less important. For example, the Oregonian reported on 8/20/02 that community representatives have expressed their concerns to Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker about the summer's shootings, his short-staffed gang enforcement team and dwindling resources for gang outreach and police-youth activities. Kroeker is quoted as replying, "Let's deal with it aggressively and collectively as a community." The article concludes that "an increase in Latino gang activity, the migration of gang disturbances into east Multnomah County and a lack of bilingual enforcement officers were other concerns raised."
  • Targeted offenses. Policies that focus on certain types of offenses can lead to increased numbers of people arrested for that offense. Examples include graffiti, car break-ins, drug dealing, and prostitution. In addition, seasonal crime may warrant increased attention, such as greater DUII enforcement during some holidays.
  • Policies/geographic boundaries. Some policies or ordinances are enacted to cover defined geographic areas, such as prostitution-free zones or drug-free zones. Some types of offenses carry higher penalties if they occur near schools, such as drug sales within 1000 feet of a school.
  • Security personnel initiatives. Security personnel can detain individuals suspected of shoplifting or trespass until police arrive to make the arrest. The allocation of security personnel and their training can affect the overall arrest numbers for certain crime categories.
  • Personal or community willingness to contact police. Police cannot make an arrest for an offense that was not detected or reported. Police have specific resources dedicated to assisting Hispanic domestic violence victims and Asian elders who are crime victims in reporting these offenses in order to increase reporting in populations who historically underreport.
  • Officers' own experience and discretion. Officers have a history and knowledge of the communities and districts they serve. They may stop someone who exhibits behaviors that are out of place, someone they arrested before or someone they perceive as likely to have offended based on their behavior. They may also make stops based on knowledge of outstanding warrants. In addition, police are more likely to detain an individual who strongly resembles a suspect in a reported crime or is driving a vehicle that matches the description of one used in a crime.
  • Suspects' behavior. Suspects who exhibit behaviors often linked to more serious offenses or are combative and a perceived risk to the community may warrant detainment or search.
  • Geographic features. Certain features in the urban landscape can attract crimes of opportunity. For example, wooded parks may see more public drinking or graffiti because parks provide more privacy. Large parking lots at shopping malls may see more thefts from autos because packages are visible to passersby. These types of features have typically warranted more police patrol presence.
  • Crime rate of the area. Police resources are allocated in part on the call load for a given area or district. In an area with higher calls for service, there will be more police on patrol and available to make arrests if they observe criminal activities.
  • Ability of others to detect and report crimes. There can be higher rates of calls for service to apartment buildings than to single family homes because neighbors may be more likely to see offenders and report them.
  • Resources required for investigation. Observable crimes such as street crimes require fewer investigation resources than detailed fraud investigations that may require combing through thousands of bank and accounting statements.
  • Severity of the crime/impact on victim. Person crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery, receive more focus in both law enforcement and the criminal justice system than property crimes, such as burglary, theft, and vandalism.

Communication barriers. Youth and their parents who do not speak English are at a disadvantage in the juvenile justice system. Multilingual staff and interpreter services are limited. At intake, if a youth or the youth's parents or caretakers do not speak English, and the caseworkers or counselor cannot speak the language of the family member, the barriers to effective communication are increased. Juvenile departments may open files on youth, when it would not otherwise do so, merely because the youth and/or the youth's parents do not speak English, and it may be necessary to open a file to obtain funds from the county for an interpreter. Counties with limited funds for interpreters may pressure juvenile court counselors to file petitions, rather than to handle the case informally, thus shifting the financial burden of providing interpreters to the state and sending the youth further into the system. Youths seeking legal representation are also at a disadvantage because of the limited number of Oregon lawyers who speak and understand the languages of non-English speaking minority Oregon residents.

Inadequate cross-cultural competency training. Communication barriers are further heightened when there is a lack of understanding of the family's cultural background by caseworkers, counselors, attorneys, and juvenile judges involved in the case.

Lack of culturally appropriate resources, placements, and services. Few diversion programs and social services are tailored to the unique needs of minority youth. Moreover, justice system practitioners may not be aware of all available programs and services.

Bias of decision-makers. Despite established public policies and procedures designed to ensure fairness for all, the personal views of police officers, juvenile department staff, court staff, and others may contribute to the over-representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system.


Are minority youth over-represented in other juvenile justice systems?

Yes. Over-representation exists at every critical point in the juvenile justice system, including arrest, secure detention, transfer of youth from juvenile to adult court, disposition and sentencing to secure corrections, confinement in adult jails and lockups, transfer to adult court, and placement on probation. (OJJDP, 1997). ¿Donde Esta la Justicia? (2002) cites findings from several national studies that minority over-representation exists across the U.S.:

Youth of color represented just 34% of the U.S. population in 1997 but represented 62% of the youth in detention and 67% of the youth committed to state facilities.

Between 1983 and 1991, the percentage of Hispanic youth in public detention centers increased by 84% compared to an 8% increase for White youth and 46% for youth overall.

In 1999, for every 100,000 African American youth in the general population, there were 1,018 incarcerated. For Hispanic youth the rate was 515, whereas for White youth it was 204.

Hispanic Americans constituted 24% of youth whose felony cases were filed in 18 adult criminal courts in 1998, although they comprised only about 12% of the population.

In 1993, among youth with no prior admissions to state facilities, the admission rate for Hispanic youth charged with property offenses was almost 2 times the rate for White Youth. For youth charged with violent offenses, the admission rate for Hispanic youth was more than 5 times the rate for White youth. For youth charged with drug offenses, the admission to public facilities rate for Hispanic youth was 13 times the rate for White youth. Hispanic youth charged with violent crimes spent an average of 143 days longer incarcerated than White youth charged with the same offenses – almost 5 months longer. For drug offenses, Hispanic youth were incarcerated for more than twice the amount of time (306 days) as White youth (144 days) – more than 5 months longer.

*Sources: