Center on Race and Social Problems

Multilevel Characteristics of Incarcerated Youth and the Role of Race

January 1, 2005 to January 1, 2014

Although rates of crime and violence have fallen over the past decade (Blumstein & Wallman, 2000; Levitt, 2004; Rosenfeld, 2004), there has been a significant rise in the number of Americans who are incarcerated, including juveniles (Sickmund, 2004). Policy and practice disputes continue unabated with respect to the disposition of youthful offenders. These disputes, however, persist with little empirical information about the characteristics and social circumstances that surround incarcerated youth. Given racial disparities in incarceration (Blumstein, 1993, Miller, 1996; Tonry, 1995), policy decisions need to confront the role that race plays in this phenomenon. Thus, the present study proposes to begin the process of addressing the chasm between juvenile justice policy and practice on the one hand and the scientific realities of incarcerated youth on the other. Specific aims of the investigation are to:

  • Describe the patterns of demographic, individual, behavioral (e.g., prior offending, substance use, possession, and distribution of drugs), situational (e.g., differential access to private places), and sociocultural contextual influences (e.g., perceptions of neighborhood disorder) among a sample of incarcerated youth (ages 13-17).

  • Compare racial groups across a range of measures and assess the properties of instruments with regard to their reliability and appropriateness.

  • Identify distinct characteristics and variables that will facilitate the testing of key hypotheses and inform the direction of future studies.

This year we have begun surveying young men at a juvenile justice facility and expect to complete data collection in the coming year.