Measuring racial disparities in detention

Black and Latino/a youths are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system in Harris County. This disparity is the result of multiple structural issues that affect youth of color, many of which extend beyond the juvenile justice system itself. A crucial first step to address the disparities that do occur within the system is to identify and quantify the specific decisions and inflection points where these disparities may be present. This diagnostic step will also inform what interventions present the best opportunity to reduce the identified disparities.

In this report, we rigorously analyze racial disparities in detention outcomes in Harris County between 2010 and 2022. We exploit rich data from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) to account for multiple confounding characteristics when comparing detention rates along racial lines. Although we cannot completely rule out the existence of other confounders for which we do not have data, such as information gathered by decision makers at the time of their interaction with youth, our analysis accounts for an extensive list of characteristics, which includes the most important confounders. Furthermore, we meticulously disaggregate the detention process into multiple steps aiming to identify which of these steps play a larger role in explaining racial disparities.

Results and report coming soon [Expected: June 2023]

This project is part of our long-term partnership with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD), in which we aim to quantitatively characterize the multiple decisions that affect the youth in the system, rigorously evaluate programs and services, and identify racial disparities throughout the system. Our research will directly inform HCJPD leadership, as well as other stakeholders, such as the Harris County Juvenile Board, as they implement policies, changes, and programs to achieve their vision for youth justice in Harris County.

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