Characterizing racial disparities in the juvenile justice system

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.

This research agenda will analyze decisions made within the system at different moments of youths’ involvement to quantify disparities by race in those decisions. However, the complex way in which these decisions compound and interact with each other throughout youths’ lives require a rigorous analysis that accounts for pre-existing differences between groups with respect to other sociodemographic characteristics, alleged offenses, and youths’ prior involvement with the system. TPL’s team will use a wide range of econometric techniques to carefully and rigorously conduct these analyses. Although these will not be able to conclusively determine the causes of these racial disparities or the mechanisms through which they are created, this agenda constitutes a necessary first step in a deeper effort to address racial disparities in Harris County’s juvenile justice system.

The projects in this research agenda will contribute to address the pervasive racial disparities that exist in juvenile justice systems across the United States, including Harris County, by rigorously documenting and quantifying these disparities and identifying key decisions where they are more salient. Our research is designed to provide a careful diagnosis of a widespread problem and will lead to deliberately designed interventions to reduce racial disparities observed in specific moments. We will then evaluate these interventions to inform stakeholders about successful methods that reduce racial disparities in the short run and, hopefully, eliminate them in the long run.


This agenda will encompass multiple projects and is part of our long-term partnership with HCJPD.

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