American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 46, Issue 1-2, 10-15


Copyright © 2010 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Significant racial disparities exist within the juvenile justice system. Across age and gender, black and minority Americans are disproportionately represented within the justice system as compared to white Americans. In examining issues related to disproportionate minority contact, research has historically focused almost exclusively on males, given their greater presence in the system. However, the representation of females in the juvenile justice system is rising. For instance, from 1980 to 2003, the proportion of girls under the age of 18 who were arrested increased for both the Violent Crime Index (i.e., aggravated assault, rape, robbery, and murder) and the Property Crime Index (i.e., larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, and burglary). Hence, as the gender gap in arrest rates continues to decrease and the overrepresentation of minorities persists, it becomes important to consider two crucial questions: 1) Are black and white female juvenile offenders different in terms of their risk profiles? and 2) Do these risk profiles differentiate the pathways by which these two groups of girls reengage in antisocial behavior?

This article summarizes the prevalence and function of neighborhood- and individual-level risk factors for antisocial behavior among black and white female juvenile offenders from the Gender and Aggression Project (GAP)—Virginia Site, which consisted of a sample of incarcerated girls followed into the community. Specifically, we examined the prevalence of the following risk factors: 1) absolute neighborhood disadvantage, defined as the percentage of female-headed households, people on public assistance, people below the poverty line, and people unemployed using census data at tract level, 2) relative disadvantage disadvantage, defined as the amount of income inequality within a given census tract, 3) physical victimization by parents and/or peers, and 4) witnessing criminality and violence within the environment. We next determined whether racial differences existed with regard to these risk factor—that is, are black versus white female offenders more likely to have grown up in disadvantaged neighborhoods and/or to have witnessed violence within their surroundings. Finally, we assessed whether these risk factors operated differently by race. In other words, we wanted to know whether specific risk factors—such as growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood—were more predictive of antisocial behavior for black versus white girls. These findings have the potential to lead to a better understanding of the discrepant representation of minorities in the judicial system and provide an opportunity to tailor interventions and reentry programs to divergent population needs.