Research-Based Needs Assessment

Identification of the problem

The problem that will be considered in this paper will be juvenile delinquency among African Americans. Over the years, it has been noticed that the Black youths are disproportionately over-represented in the juvenile system at both the national level and state level. This issue continues to expand as the disparity continues to increase with more youths sinking deeper into the system. Various studies have been carried out and depicted how African American youth experience higher levels of juvenile justice involvement at every system level including arrest, sentencing, and incarceration in comparison to their ethnic counterparts (Voisin, Kim, Takahashi, Moratta & Bocanegra, 2017). This issue has received the recognition of the government and measures are being taken to address it under the Federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

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Needs Analysis of Juvenile Delinquency Among African Americans Youths

Studies have revealed that juvenile justice system involvement is correlated with delinquency or youth offending, substance use, poor mental health, and sexual risk behaviors (Voisin et al., 2017). African American youths are largely affected by such problems thereby exposing them to risk of being involved in the juvenile system. Unnever and Gabbidon extrapolate that the education level of African-American juveniles is a major predictor of their possibility of engaging in delinquent behavior (2011). This indicates that that African-American juveniles have a higher probability of engaging in offending acts in case they are less successful in school. The general life perspective that the African-Americans juveniles have continues to be shaped by experiences with racial discrimination and racist stereotypes (Unnever, 2015).

The disparities in the juvenile justice systems for delinquency offenses reveal that the white youth takes part in risky behavior at the same or even higher rates than the Black youths. While the Black youths are more likely to carry out assaults and thefts, self-reporting data have revealed that the White youths are equally likely to have a handgun, or a weapon on school property, carry out vandalism, steal, or sell drugs. National data reveal that relative to their white counterparts, the Black Youths are more likely to get arrested, referred to a juvenile system, detained, and taken to an adult court. Black youth are less likely to referred to a diversion program or probation relative to their White youths Feyerherm, W. (2011). This situation has seen the federal government and different states put effort in reducing the racial ethnic disparities, especially for the Black Youth. However, this still remains a difficult goal to achieve that has left many jurisdictions struggling to attain these reductions. Disparities related to the Black Youths continues to exist especially on the arrest and bind over decisions.  The minority youths especially the African-Americans have been observed of having higher rates of engagement in the juvenile system relative to the white counterparts, they get more intensive and intrusive dispositions such as higher rates of detentions, less rates of diversion, higher rates of being put in correctional facilities as well as higher chances of being referred to an adult court. While it has been noted a reduction in the involvement in the juvenile system, the trend seemed to be moving faster for the white youths thereby causing a disparate engagement and handling of the minority youth Feyerherm, W. (2011). 

Causes and Significant Factors of Disparities in Juvenile Justice for African-American Youths

A study by James, Unnever, Cullen, & Barnes (2016) sought to examine how perceived racial discrimination directly or indirectly affected juvenile delinquency. This study indicated that racial discrimination lead to more chances of offending by increasing the likelihood of the dropping out of school of the African-American youths and increasing chances of associating with delinquent peers. The researchers made a conclusion that in a society that continued to be racialized, the African-Americans youths are placed in the pathways that could contribute to their criminal involvement. Racialization has been contributing to creation of stereotypes that affects the practices and decision-making of different players in the juvenile system such as the judges, lawyers, police and probation officers. Racialization creates a platform for the development of a narrative that these actors use to create baseline determinants, informed by the white cultural norms to distinguish the good kids from the bad kids. Such racial discrimination leads to racially biased judgements of the youth rather that carrying out an objective analysis of the relevant risk factors and portray the needs of an individual youth (Birckhead, 2017). 

A significant factor related to disparity in juvenile justice for the African-American youths is related with educational disadvantage. School completion influences life trajectories on work and family formation. These cases of juvenile arrest have great effects on education attainment and further exposure to the increased prevalence of the disparity. The social control theory indicates these arrests lead to creation of weak bonds to schools which eventually cause problems such as truancy and school drop-out. This is affirmed by the rational choice theories that suggest students may opt to drop out of schools or not join college after arrest after they make a conclusion that the expected benefits and increased utility to be acquired from education in not likely to achieved due to the stigma related to criminal record. Another theory that offers explanation to this scenario is the labelling theory that indicates that by being officially labelled as a “criminal”, these youths receive different treatment by the education institutions (Kirk & Sampson, 2013). Citing need for accountability and school safety, the students with criminal records may find themselves pushed out of high school as per exclusionary policies. 

Such profiling based on the criminal record may make these youths to be segregated into specialized programs for youths with problems. The stigma from being labeled as a criminal negatively affect the social relationship. This may be followed by rejection from teachers, parents, and other students. Such labels reduce the chances of these youths to be enrolled in colleges as well as make them unqualified for acquiring financial aid. The arrest may also reduce the probability of high school graduation and joining college due to time lost while in the court system, detention and reporting to probation officers. Accrued effects of these factors lead to lower social economic status of these youths which further escalates their probability of being engages in crime thereby putting the already marginalized youths in line of the juvenile justice system (Kirk & Sampson, 2013). 

Demographics of the Selected Population

In a recent report, the Nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative indicated that while the Black kids make up less than 14% of the entire American youths below 18 years, they make up the largest portion of the youths in the juvenile facilities. The report noted that Black male youths represent 43% of the male population in juvenile facilities while the black female youth make up 34% of the girls incarcerates (Serrano, 2018). The Native Americans who represent less than 1% of all youths in America make up 3% of all females and 1.5% of all male youths in the juvenile detention facilities (Serrano, 2018). 

While it has been established that the number of the youths in the juvenile facilities continues to reduce all over the country, the racial disparity amongst these youths continues to flourish as indicated in the data from the Department of Justice. As at 2015, the African-American were five times more likely to be detained in comparison to the white youths. This was an increase relative to the same in 2001 where the African-American youths were four times to be incarcerated (The Sentensing Project , 2018). For period between 2001 and 2015, the levels of juvenile incarceration reduced by 54%. However, the rate of decrease for the white youth in the juvenile facilities was much faster compared to that of the black youth. It has been noted that the national rate of youth placement in the juvenile facilities was 153 for every 100,000 youth. The African-American’s rate was however 433 per 100,000 compared to 86 for the white youth (The Sentensing Project , 2018). In general, it can be observed that tendencies of racial disparity between the black youth and white had increased by 22% from the level in 2001. 

An analysis of similar trends in different states revealed that in six states, the African American youths were 10 times likely to be placed in juvenile facilities relative to the white youth. These states included New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Vermont, West Virginia, and New Hampshire where found to have reduced their racial disparities by at least half. It was revealed that in Maryland, Montana, Connecticut, Delaware, and Wisconsin the rate of racial disparity in juvenile incarceration had doubled between 2001 and 2015 (The Sentensing Project , 2018). 

Effects on the Population

In comparison to the youths who have be involved in the juvenile system, the youths who have be engaged in system were found to have higher prevalence of co-occurring psychiatric disorders such as affective disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study indicated that the PTSD prevalence estimates for the youths engages in the juvenile justice system was likely to be 4-8 times higher than normal youths in the community. Substance use and disorder is another significant effect that has been found to be more prevalent among the youths and adolescents who have been engaged in the juvenile justice system. The levels of substance use and disorder among the youths in the juvenile system varied depending on where the substance use occurs and the setting of the juvenile system whether in detention, secure confinement, or entry into the system. In most cases, the youths involved in the juvenile justice system engage in lying, stealing, truancy, and vandalism. Such acts are contributors to the high levels of psychological problems and substance use disorders. The detention of these youths due to behavioral problems increases their exposure to more behavioral health problems. It has been noted that the exposure to the juvenile justice system might result to trauma and disruption of the social networks which might in turn contribute to behavioral health issues (Voisin et al. 2017). 


Birckhead, T. R. (2017). The Racialization of Juvenile Justice and the Role of the Defense Attorney. BCL Rev.58, 379.

Feyerherm, W. (2011). Oregon juvenile justice system needs analysis: Juvenile crime trends and recidivism report.

Kirk, D. S., & Sampson, R. J. (2013). Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood. Sociology of Education88(1), 36–62. 

The Sentensing Project . (2018). Fact Sheet: Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration . Retrieved from

Unnever, J. D. (2015). Causes of African‐American Juvenile Delinquency. The Handbook of juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice2, 121.

Unnever, J. D., Cullen, F. T., & Barnes, J. C. (2017). Racial discrimination and pathways to delinquency: Testing a theory of African American offending. Race and justice7(4), 350-373.

Unnever, J. D., & Gabbidon, S. L. (2011). A theory of African American offending: Race, racism, and crime. New York, NY: RoutledgeVoisin, D. R., Kim, D., Takahashi, L., Morotta, P., & Bocanegra, K. (2017). Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System for African American Adolescents: Examining Associations with Behavioral Health Problems. Journal of Social Service Research43(1), 129–140.

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