Racial Disparities in Early Criminal Justice Involvement

Race Soc Probl. 2009 Dec 11;1(4):218-230. doi: 10.1007/s12552-009-9018-y.


Criminologists have long reported the existence of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, but the important question is why. While some argue that observed differences are a consequence of more criminal behavior among minorities, the weight of the evidence indicates that this is but a partial explanation. In this paper we study data from a sample of juveniles to examine how racial differences in early police contact, and important social environments-family, school, and neighborhoods-affect later contact and arrests, controlling for self-reported delinquency. We find that early (in middle school) contact with police is an important predictor of later (high school) arrests. Also we found that, in addition to being male and living in a low-income family, children who have parents who have a history of arrest, who have experienced school disciplinary actions, who have delinquent peers, and who are in networks with deviant adults are more likely to have problems with law enforcement. These factors help to explain racial differences in police contacts and arrests.