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.
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
Division of Criminal Justice
Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance
Reducing Racial & Ethnic Disparities & Federal Grant Programs Specialist
For additional information, definitions and data on disproportionate minority contact in Colorado, visit the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice DMC page.