Minority Youth and Police Contact

A recent article in The Atlantic points out that US incarceration rates are extremely high compared to those of other nations, especially for black men. But jails and prisons represent just one of many stages in the justice system where racial-ethnic disparity is a major problem, even for youth. Understanding why black and Latino adolescents experience greater risk of contact with the juvenile justice system is a difficult task. Future of Children author Alex Piquero argues that police play an important decision-making role in juvenile justice. Thus, careful examination of a youth's initial interaction with police may shed some light on the issue of minority contact.

One example of police contact is New York City's Stop-and-Frisk program. It has been practiced by the New York Police Department for decades, and many contend that it has helped keep guns off the street and lower the city's homicide rate. Some research shows evidence to support this argument, but the practice has nonetheless been met with heated debate and complaints of racial profiling. Indeed, a recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that more than 86 percent of police stops in 2012 were of blacks or Latinos.

To address the controversy surrounding Stop-and-Frisk, the City Council voted to increase the oversight of police by establishing a new inspector general position. Yet some fear placing more limits on police will lead to an increase in crime rates. Piquero urges rigorous evaluation of new initiatives to curb disproportionate minority contact, with a focus on the best evidence for what works. Find his evidence-based suggestions in the Future of Children issue on Juvenile Justice.

The post above is reprinted with permission from The Future of Children Blog, a project of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

Wade C. Jacobsen is a Research Specialist focusing on juvenile justice and prison re-entry at the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at Princeton University. He currently co-teaches a college course in sociology at a New Jersey state correctional facility as part of Princeton University's Prison Teaching Initiative. Wade received his M.S. in Sociology from Brigham Young University.
 
 
 
 

Updated: February 08 2018