R.E.D. - Racial & Ethnic Disparities

(Also referred to as DMC (Disproportionate Minority Contact)

  • Introduction
  • Washington state race and ethnic disparities
  • Collateral consequences
  • Washington state DMC assessment


Step into juvenile delinquency courts throughout the state and you usually will find the number of children of color who appear there are out of proportion to their numbers in the surrounding community.  For decades, they have been over-represented at every stage of the delinquency process from arrest and confinement to transfer to the adult system. Causes are varied and often resistant to change.

Improved data collection and analysis in many localities has helped spur the development of strategies to reduce disparities among youth who come in contact with the juvenile justice system. The work is paving the way for a more equitable juvenile justice system that will treat youth fairly regardless of their race or ethnicity.[1]

A report released by the Sentencing Project in August 2014, “Race and Punishment: racial perceptions of crime and support for punitive policies” concludes:

  • White Americans are more punitive than people of color.

  • Whites misjudge how much crime is committed by African Americans and Latinos.

  • Whites who more strongly associate crime with racial minorities are more supportive of punitive policies.

  • Media crime coverage fuels racial perceptions of crime.

  • Policymakers’ actions and statements amplify the public’s racial associations of crime.

  • Criminal justice practitioners also operate with and reinforce racial perceptions of crime.

  • Racial perceptions of crime have distorted the criminal justice system.

  • Racial perceptions of crime have undermined public safety.

This report concludes with recommendations on how the media, researchers, policymakers, and criminal justice professionals can address and mitigate the effects of racial perceptions of crime and lay the groundwork for more just crime control policies.  [2]

The Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice's number one priority is racial and ethnic disparities.

Washington state racial and ethnic disparities data

NOTE: The fact that youth of color are involved with the juvenile justice system at disproportionate rates has often been referred to as “disproportionate minority contact” (DMC). However, regional and national demographic shifts make it more appropriate to refer to it as “racial and ethnic disparities (R.E.D), without reference to “minorities”.

Research data collected by the Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice/Office of Juvenile Justice examines race and ethnicity as factors influencing decisions at various contact points within the juvenile justice system. Data confirms that youth of color are disproportionately represented as they progress through the system. The differences between youth of color and white youths’ representation becomes amplified with each successive decision point. Data collected at various decision-making stages in Washington's juvenile justice system for 2012 show*:

  • Generally, DMC does exist at all levels of the juvenile justice system in Washington.

  • Asian arrest relative rate index (RRI) is lower than the white population (.29) 

  • African-American youth arrest RRI remains higher than any other ethnic/racial category at 1.96.  (Compared to 1.64 in 2011, 1.50 in 2010, and 1.72 in 2009.) 

  • Native American arrest RRI is 1.26 (Compared to 1.16 in 2011, 1.13 in 2010, and 1.35 in 2009).

  • All minority youth are referred to juvenile court at a much higher rate than white youth, with American Indian, Asian and African American youth referring at the highest rates of 1.78 ,1.7, and 1.63 respectively. 

  • The RRI shows that non-White youth are diverted significantly less often than white youth.

  • American Indian and African-American youth are disproportionately securely detained at 1.64 and 1.19 respectively.

    In 2012, non-white youth accounted for:

  • 19.6 percent of all juvenile arrests (does not include Hispanic which are not captured on Uniform Crime Reports or the National Incident Based Reporting System used by law enforcement; Hispanic youth are typically categorized as white at arrest).

  • Approximately 41.4 percent of all juvenile court offense referrals.

  • 44.5 percent of juveniles held in county detention facilities.

  • 58 percent of juveniles held in juvenile rehabilitation facilities.

*(An index value of 1 in this data indicates the rates were essentially the same as white youth.  An index that is statistically significant is one that in unlikely to have occurred as a random process. This is a first step in examining disproportionality and serves as an ongoing set of “vital signs” for managing the juvenile justice system. This data is referred to as the relative rate increase.)

Collateral consequences

Because youth of color disproportionately enter and move through the juvenile justice system in Washington, they are disproportionately affected by the collateral consequences of the involvement with the system. Youth who transition out of secure confinement encounter substantial challenges in gaining employment, finding housing, getting an education and accessing medical and mental health care. Moreover, youth frequently are unaware of the consequences of their actions within the court system; a guilty plea, for instance, may be offered to expedite the process but may be accompanied by an assortment of problems years later, many of which result in recidivism.

Youth who are transferred to the adult system face additional problems. Juveniles incarcerated in adult facilities are 30 percent more likely to be re-arrested than those retained in the juvenile justice system, both sooner and for more serious offenses. These youth receive significantly less access to age-appropriate rehabilitative, educational and or vocational services than they would in the juvenile justice system. This sets them up for failure upon release. Additionally, programs offered in the adult system are not structured for juveniles, and correctional officers are often not aware of developmental differences between adults and youth, who require specialize handling and treatment.  As a result, youth housed in adult facilities and released as young adults exhibit more negative outcomes than if they had been held in a juvenile facility.[3]

The following are aspects of our system that result in involvement in the system and collateral damages for our youth that we work to “rehabilitate” with the notion that young people who become delinquent are amendable to reform:

  • Sale and distribution of juvenile records

  • Zero tolerance and other school push-out policies

  • Challenges to re-enrollment

  • Barriers to employment

  • Eviction and homelessness

  • Placement on a National or State Sex Offender Registry

Washington DMC assessment

The WA-PCJJ contracted with the University of Washington to conduct an assessment of disproportionate minority contact in Washington State. The report combined available data with the experiences, beliefs and knowledge interest groups in order to find those areas in which DMC is considered to be an issue of importance; to discover what communities may be doing to address DMC; and to provide suggestions on positive directions communities can take to address DMC. The report highlights promising practices including the Annie E. Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change initiative currently underway in our state.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  1. Increase the number of jurisdictions with a sophisticated understanding of DMC.

  2. Verify the validity and reliability of data collected on race/ethnicity.

  3. Work to increase buy-in and ownership (belief that it is their responsibility to address DMC) across all stakeholder groups.

  4. Build cross-system coalitions within each jurisdiction to address DMC reduction efforts, or integrate DMC reduction efforts with an existing group.

  5. Strengthen efforts to involve communities of color in the functioning of the justice system.

  6. Collaborate with tribes in appropriate jurisdictions

  7. Implement and sustain changes to policies, practices, and procedures that may reduce disproportionality.

  8. Implement and sustain evidence-based behavioral health programs while increasing the enrollment of youth of color in these programs, focusing on access, effectiveness and relevance.

  9. Strengthen and coordinate statewide leadership on DMC reduction.



[1] [1] Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: https://jjie.org/hub/racial-ethnic-fairness/
[3] National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL);Collateral Consequences for Young Offenders

R.E.D./DMC News & Informational Links