OAJJA: Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities


Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System


It is well documented that there is a disproportionate number of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Typically, this is referred to as "disproportionate minority contact," or DMC, and efforts to reduce DMC have been a key piece of Colorado's work as a participant in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act and recipient of federal funds that are dependent on maintaining compliance with the core protections of the JJDP Act. One of the four core protections is the requirement that states address Racial and Ethnic Disparities (R/ED), formerly what was known as DMC.

In an effort to better understand and address the problem, states have been mandated to identify stages of processing where racial and ethnic disparities exist, to assess the factors contributing to R/ED at those decision points, and to develop interventions that reduce the disparities. Each state and community must engage in its own efforts to identify the mechanisms that are contributing to R/ED. Not all the factors will be relevant for every community. In Colorado, the Division of Criminal Justice monitors racial and ethnic disparities at key juvenile processing stages, including arrest, pre-adjudicated detention, filing, adjudication, and sentencing, including the use of probation and commitment to the Division of Youth Services using a Relative Rate Index. This index is a metric used to detect disproportionate minority contact by comparing the rates of contact experienced among minority youth to that of white youth, rates greater than 1 indicate disproportionate contact at that decision point. Rates less than 1 indicate under-representation of minority youth, which should be looked at when looking at diversionary type programs that aim to divert youth from entering or further penetrating the juvenile justice system.

The Colorado JJDP Council has a long-standing committee, the Coalition for Minority Youth Equity, that aims to address racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The committee includes members of the JJDP Council, other juvenile justice system agencies, and local governmental and not-for-profit agencies. Input and assistance from the committee helps the Division of Criminal Justice address racial and ethnic disparities, and remain in compliance with the JJDP Act.

Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities Toolkit



Decision to Arrest

Want to look at arrests that lead to both municipal and district court involvement, by race and ethnicity?

Pertinent Materials to Review:

What are the sources of referrals? What are the patterns for each source:

  • Local Law Enforcement agencies (by specific jurisdiction)
  • Other agencies such as child welfare
  • Institutions such as shopping centers, major stores, park police, etc
  • Parents / families
  • Probation offices (technical violations, new offenses)
  • Police/sheriff department’s policy(ies) on juvenile arrests
  • School(s) Policy on referrals to law enforcement (when does a discipline problem become a criminal matter)
  • Disengagement with school
  • Truancy
  • Drop outs
  • Graduation rates
  • Suspensions
  • Expulsions
  • Criminalizing School Infractions

Data on Decision to arrest or issue a citation

  • Severity of offense, by race and ethnicity
  • Prior/secure confinements/arrests, by race and ethnicity
  • How many youth by race and ethnicity are on probation at the time of arrest or citation?

Alternatives to Arrest:

Alternatives that are used by officers:

(If so, what are the usage patterns, are there geographic issues, do these programs have screening criteria?)

  • Shelters (homeless, detox, etc)
  • Referral or Assessment centers
  • Referrals to organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, after school programs,
    ‘Diversion’ programs like a shoplifting school, traffic schools, ‘theft talk’ etc
  • Community-Based Services
  • Access to Mental Health Services
  • Access to Substance Abuse Treatment

Geographic hotspots for arrests

  • Zip codes of offenders’ homes
  • Zip codes where offenses took place
  • Are there zip codes where most arrests are taking place?
  • Are the offenders coming from predominately a few areas?
  • What opportunities exist for youth in those areas?
  • What prevention/intervention programs are accessible to youth in those areas?
  • Is there access to mental health and substance abuse services in these areas?

Difference in arrest by offense type and ethnicity

Time of day of arrests

  • Determine the time of day for most juvenile arrests by ethnicity
  • Are there differences by ethnicity in the time of day and/or day of week that arrests are occurring?

Number of arrests on warrants/type of warrants

  • Type of warrant youth are being arrested for, by race and ethnicity: Failure to Appear, Failure to Comply, Municipal or District warrants.
  • Are there differences in the types of warrants youth are arrested for by race and ethnicity?

Any other factors that lead to an automatic arrest?

Possible explanations for DMC:
  • Is there selective enforcement?
  • Indirect effects of socio-economic factors (income, wealth in area, family structure, school systems)
Public policies that affect arrest (attention to zones around schools, drug-free zones, etc.)
  • Institutional practices
  • School push-out policies
  • Calls for service (who calls the police, what types of things are handled as nonlaw enforcement issues, what are the geographic patterns of calls)

Other areas to look at:

  • Subjective Decision Making (how do officers make judgments about routine stops, who to question, etc)
  • Differential Offending (who belongs to gangs, which groups have higher involvement in crime, different types of crime and greater recidivism)
  • Differential Administrative Policies and Practices:
    • How Many Youth Have Had Child Welfare involvement (do youth of color have more CW involvement?)
    • How Many Youth of Color Have Access to Health Care Including Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment
Decision to Detain

Chief Justice’s Order that provides rules related to use of detention in that jurisdiction

Questions/Data to Review:

  • Is there a difference by ethnicity of youth screened for detention?
  • What is the number and percent of youth screened to each level by ethnicity?
  • Are the reasons for detention different by ethnicity? Look specifically at warrants such as Failure to Appear and Failure to Comply.
  • Do the levels of risk on the CJRA for youth detained differ by ethnicity?
  • Which elements in the CJRA account for the differences in risk?
  • What are the reasons that low-risk youth were detained? Does this differ by ethnicity?
  • Are there issues with the availability of alternatives, availability of parents, or other items that might differ by ethnicity or geography?
  • Was there agreement between the recommended placement level under the JDSAG and the actual placement?
  • If not, how does this differ by ethnicity?
  • Are there differences in leave reasons for youth based on ethnicity?
  • For the negative terminations are there differences by ethnicity?

Other factors:

  • Length of stay – does it differ by race/ethnicity – look at both the average and the ranges (minimum, maximum)
  • Seriousness of offense
  • Misdemeanor or felony
  • Offender age and gender
  • Differences between districts
Decision to Refer to Diversion

Questions/Data to Review:

  • Who is served by diversion, by ethnicity?
  • Do youth need to admit guilt in order to receive diversion?
  • Is there a difference by ethnicity in youth served by pre-adjudication versus postadjudication diversion programs?
  • Diversion services can be broken out by type: Supervision, Treatment,
    Accountability, Restorative Justice, and Competency services. Does the type of
    service delivered differ by ethnicity?
  • Are programs/services being utilized equally effective for all ethnicities? What are
    the program completion rates by ethnicity? What are the outcomes for youth by
    ethnicity (recidivism, academic improvement, employment, family stability,
  • What youth and program factors are associated with (reduced) recidivism? Is
    there a difference by ethnicity in the proportions of youth who receive a
    diagnostic assessment for mental health or substance use needs?
  • Colorado’s standard criterion for recidivism is a filing or filings for a new offense
    either while the juvenile was in the program or up to one year after they exited
    the program. Are there differences in recidivism rates by ethnicity?
    Is there a difference by ethnicity on the referral source for youth to diversion
    (police, courts, or probation)?
    Is there a difference in average program duration by ethnicity?
Decision to File

Questions/Data to Review:

  • What information is available to District Attorneys to make their filing decision?
  • What formal criteria are used to make decisions on who gets offered diversion? What is the range and use of discretion in using that criteria?
  • Is informal criteria/information used to make decisions on diversion?
  • Questions/Data to Review: What is the percent by ethnicity of cases presented by law enforcement to the District Attorney’s office?
  • What percent by ethnicity of the cases brought by law enforcement get filed on?
  • What are the completion rates for diversion by ethnicity?
  • What are the negative termination rates by ethnicity?
  • Are there differences by ethnicity in termination reasons?
Decision to Adjudicate Youth as Delinquent

Questions/Data to Review:

  • Percent of youth by ethnicity adjudicated delinquent in municipal court?
  • Percent of youth by ethnicity adjudicated delinquent in district court?
  • What information is available to judges when making their decision to adjudicate?
  • What does the severity of offenses compared to adjudication by race and ethnicity look like?
  • Are youth represented by counsel? Does this differ by ethnicity?
Decisions in Sentencing

Questions/Data to Review:

  • Percent of youth by ethnicity placed on probation?
  • Percent of youth by ethnicity given a deferred adjudication?
  • Percent of youth by ethnicity placed in Child Welfare?
  • Percent of youth by ethnicity, committed on a technical violation of probation?
  • Percent of youth by ethnicity, committed for a new offense while on probation?
  • What is the average amount of restitution ordered by ethnicity?
  • What is the average amount of community service ordered by ethnicity?
  • Is consideration of sentencing alternatives required for youth who will be placed in a custody setting?
  • Are alternatives offered by youth advocates?\
  • Is the rationale for rejecting non-secure placement recorded?
Decisions in Probation

Questions/Data to Review:

  • How many terminations are there by race and ethnicity?
  • What do the termination reasons by race and ethnicity look like?
  • Look at conditions of probation, do they differ by race or ethnicity?
Decisions in Commitment

Questions/Data to Review:

  • What is the average length of stay by ethnicity and offense?
  • What is the result of parole violations for new charges by ethnicity? Do the number and percent of those cited for parole violations differ by ethnicity?
  • What is the result of parole violations for technical violations by ethnicity?
  • What is the average length of stay by ethnicity and risk scores?
  • What is the percent of youth placed in a community setting by ethnicity




Helpful Tools

In an effort to help jurisdictions examine their R/ED data, DCJ's Office of Research and Statistics has developed and interactive, online tool examining Colorado minority over-representation by Judicial District. The tool shows arrest, detention and commitment data for each judicial district across a five-year period as analyzed by race. We started with these three data points because this is the most reliable data the state has in regards to disproportionate minority contact. While we recognize that these three data points may have some flaws, we believe these points have the best data integrity and quality of all the decision points in the juvenile justice system and will allow jurisdictions to begin reviewing their local disproportionate minority contact data.

The data in the tool shows whether disproportionate minority contact exists, at which decision points and to what extent (magnitude), but it does not answer the question as to why disproportionate minority contact exists. To help you get started in your quest to answer why racial and ethnic disparities for juveniles may exist in your community, we recommend using this Toolkit. This document helps communities examine the factors that may be leading to racial and ethnic disparities at each particular decision point, one at a time.


For more information, or to attend a Coalition for Minority Youth Equity meeting

Gianina Horton

Division of Criminal Justice
Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance 
Racial and Ethnic Disparities Coordinator 
Direct: 720-786-0166
E-mail: gianina.horton@state.co.us

For additional information, definitions and data on disproportionate minority contact in Colorado, visit the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice DMC page.