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Knowledge Brief: Are Minority Youths Treated Differently in Juvenile Probation?

Published Dec 1, 2011, Models for Change Research Initiative

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While many studies have examined disproportionate minority contact at the front endof the juvenile justice system, few have examined disparities deep within the system—in particular, differences in how minority youths are treated while on probation. Thisstudy examined juvenile probation at three sites with different mixes of white, Hispanic,and black youths. The researchers explored whether judges set different conditions ofprobation and ordered different services for youths of different racial or ethnic groups,and whether probation officers treated youths differently according to their race orethnicity. They found varying answers, with no systematic pattern of discrimination.One possible explanation is the constraints, both real and perceived, on the responsesof probation officers, who may feel their only option in many situations is detention.The findings also underline the importance of collecting data throughout the system,to try to understand the reasons for the differences across different sites.

This brief is one in a series describing new knowledge and innovations emerging from Models for Change, a multi-state juvenile justice initiative. Models for Change is accelerating movement toward a more effective, fair, and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating replicable models that protect community safety, use resources wisely, and improve outcomes for youths. The briefs are intended to inform professionals in juvenile justice and related fields, and to contribute to a new national wave of juvenile justice reform.


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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.

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