Disproportionate Minority Contact

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Judicial, legal, law enforcement, justice, social service and school professionals should eliminate racial and ethnic disparities by being culturally aware and ensuring impartial and equal access to culturally-competent prevention and intervention services and treatment for youth charged with status offenses and their families.  

Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) refers to the disproportionate representation of ethnic, racial and linguistic minority youth in the juvenile court system.  The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was broadened in scope in 2002 to require that states1 address “disproportionate minority contact” (emphasis added) instead of only being required to address the disproportionality of minority youth in confinement.  Under the JJDPA, the federal government can withhold some of a state’s future grant allocation for the subsequent year if they fail to address disproportionality at all stages of justice system involvement.2

Minority youth are overrepresented in every aspect of the justice system.  African American youth represent 16 percent of the adolescents in this country, but comprise 40 percent of the youth incarcerated in local detention and state correctional facilities, and Latino youth are incarcerated in local detention and state correctional facilities nearly twice as often as white youth. Research shows that youth of color are treated more harshly than white youth when charged with the same category of offense, including status offenses.3  In 2009, the runaway case rate for African American youth was more than three times the rate for white youth, and the ungovernability case rate for African American youth was more than twice the rate of white youth.4  That same year the liquor law violation case rate for American Indian juveniles was more than three times the white rate.5

To alter the overrepresentation of minority youth in the system requires an understanding of and action plan to address the underlying disparities that bring minority youth in contact with the system.6  Effective responses to youth charged with status offenses and their families must have the intent and the effect of reducing the disparate treatment of minority youth at all points along the continuum, from prevention to identification to intervention.  See Section 1.8 to learn more about Disproportionate Minority Contact.

This page was adapted from Section 1.8 of the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.

1 In this context, “states” refers to all U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia.

2 Soler, M. and Lisa Garry. (2009) Reducing Disproportionate Minority Contact: Preparation at the Local Level. Washington, DC: Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

3 Although some status offense charges, such as liquor or curfew violations originate from police interaction or arrest, many referrals to the status offense system come from schools, home, or other service providers.

4 Puzzanchera, C. Adams, B., and Sarah Hockenberry. 2012. Juvenile Court Statistics 2009. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.

5 Id.

6 Chapin Hall Center for Children. (2008). Understanding Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. Available at: http://cjjr.georgetown.edu/pdfs/cjjr_ch_final.pdf.