John J. Wilson, Acting Administrator June 2000

Race, Ethnicity, and Serious and Violent Juvenile Offending

Darnell F. Hawkins, John H. Laub, Janet L. Lauritsen, and Lynn Cothern


Sources of Data

Serious and Violent Offending, by Race and Ethnicity

Explaining Racial and Ethnic Differences

Reframing the Research and Policy Agenda

For Further Information


Darnell F. Hawkins, Ph.D., is Professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago; John H. Laub, Ph.D., is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, College Park; Janet L. Lauritsen, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and Lynn Cothern, Ph.D., is Senior Writer-Editor for the Juvenile Justice Resource Center in Rockville, MD.

Points of view or opinions expressed in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of OJJDP or the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office for Victims of Crime.

From the Administrator

If we are to successfully address the issue of minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system, it is critical to understand the interrelationships among race, ethnicity, and serious and violent juvenile offending and their policy implications.

The data sources that could lead to such understanding, however, evidence deficiencies. The most commonly used data, official crime statistics, are limited by the fact that they represent solely those law-violating activities that result in arrest. The primary limitation of self-report offending data is the small sample size typical of such surveys.

This Bulletin details the strengths and weaknesses of these data sources and describes the findings of alternative data sources, including OJJDP's Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency.

Although researchers have long been aware of racial and ethnic differences in serious and violent juvenile offending, interpreting these variances has been problematic. The Bulletin, however, offers several explanations derived from the research literature.

I hope that the information this Bulletin provides will help reframe the research and policy agenda in a manner that strengthens the juvenile justice system and improves the safety and welfare of all Americans.

John J. Wilson
Acting Administrator



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