Ethnic and Gender Equity in Missouri Juvenile Court Decisions

Pursuant to the Juvenile Crime and Crime Prevention Bill of 1995, the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA) developed a comprehensive juvenile offender classification system to help structure key decisions made by juvenile officers. The system incorporated an actuarial risk assessment tool, used to classify youth into one of three risk levels based on the likelihood he/she will become engaged in future delinquent or criminal behavior. Officers combine results of the risk assessment with offense severity to formulate disposition and sanction recommendations to give to the courts. They also complete a needs assessment to help identify treatment needs. If a juvenile is supervised in the community, the risk level guides the level of supervision the juvenile officer provides. OSCA staff recently developed a reassessment for youth on supervision to ensure that the assigned level of contact and case plan content are appropriate.

Another phase of the crime prevention effort is a legislative mandate to determine if racial disparities occur in the juvenile justice system. Specifically, the legislation states that “…juvenile officers and juvenile courts, shall at least biennially review a random sample of assessments of children and the disposition of each child’s case to recommend assessment and disposition equity throughout the state” (211.141.5 RSMo. Supp.1995). Another section of the legislation states that “Standards, training and assessment forms . . . shall be developed considering racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.” (211.326.6 RSMo. Supp.1995). OSCA contracted with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) to conduct a study that meets these requirements.

The purpose of the study was to examine decision points in the juvenile court process and compare decisions made by the ethnicity and gender of the youth. The court process covers all decisions to be made regarding juvenile charges: intake, screening, case processing, and disposition, both formal and informal.

The two primary research questions were:
1. Is there disproportionate representation by ethnicity or gender at any decision point in the juvenile court process? For example, are minority male youth confined at a greater rate than White male youth with similar adjudicated offenses and offense histories? When offense histories are similar, are female youth more likely to be placed on formal supervision compared to male youth?

2. If there is disproportionate representation of minorities or females, are there referral or youth characteristics correlated with ethnicity or gender and are contributing to minority and/or female over-representation at a stage of the juvenile court process?