The color of juvenile justice: Racial disparities in dispositional decisions

Jamie J. Fader, Megan C. Kurlychek, Kirstin A. Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Existing research on dispositional decisions typically models the outcome as merely placed or not placed. However, this does not accurately reflect the wide variation in residential options available to juvenile court actors. In this research, we combine data from ProDES, which tracks adjudicated youth in Philadelphia, with data from the Program Design Inventory, which describes over 100 intervention programs, to further examine the factors that influence court actors' decision making in selecting an appropriate program for a juvenile offender. We find that even after controlling for legal and needs-based factors, race continues to exert a significant influence, with decision makers being significantly more likely to commit minority youth to facilities using physical regimen as their primary modality and reserving smaller, therapeutic facilities for their white counterparts. Using focal concerns theory as an explanatory lens, we suggest that court actors in this jurisdiction employ a racialized perceptual shorthand of youthful offenders that attributes both higher levels of blame and lower evaluations of reformability to minority youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-140
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Science Research
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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