Youth of color are substantially more likely to be arrested than non-Hispanic white youth with similar case histories. Following arrest, youth of color are also more likely to face formal charges in court while their white peers are far more likely to be diverted and have their cases handled informally — outside of court.
The Push to Transform Juvenile Probation
This publication — part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s work to transform juvenile probation — builds on research that says U.S. juvenile courts divert too few youth from formal processing. This outcome exists despite evidence indicating that informal processing improves public safety outcomes and helps young people realize greater employment and academic success.
The document also calls for bolstering opportunities for Black youth, in particular, to be successfully diverted from the juvenile justice system. Additional key points include:
Vast disparities exist at the initial point of contact with the justice system. Black youth and other youth of color are arrested and referred to juvenile courts for delinquency at far higher rates than white youth despite similar rates of law-breaking behavior.
After being referred to court for delinquency, Black youth are far less likely to be offered diversion when compared to their white non-Hispanic peers. And, while the inequity gap isn’t as large, diversion is also less likely for youth who identify as Native American, Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander when compared to their white non-Hispanic peers.
Disparities in diversion have been linked to eligibility and participation requirements and other seemingly objective decision-making criteria that place youth of color at a distinct disadvantage.
A lack of diversion opportunities offered to youth of color plays a central role in perpetuating and exacerbating unequal outcomes in later stages of the justice process.
White youth have — for years — been more likely than their Black peers to be diverted from court processing
Findings & Stats
Youth and Police
Eighth graders who’ve had contact with police are five times more likely to get arrested by 10th grade when compared to eighth graders who’ve had no police contact.
A Prohibitive Requirement
In 26 states across the nation, young people are required to pay fees to participate in diversion. Unfortunately, youth and families of color are more likely to struggle to meet diversion program requirements like these.
A Racial Divide
When compared to their white peers, Black youth are less likely to be diverted from court in every offense category, with the most glaring gaps involving youth charged with serious violent offenses (19% vs. 28%) and serious property offenses (37% vs. 49%).
Statements & Quotations
Research finds that disparities in diversion are often the result of implicit (or unconscious) biases of system decision makers.
Juvenile justice scholars report that disparate treatment of Black youth and other youth of color is most prevalent in the early stages of the justice process — and particularly at diversion.
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