Mental Illness, Violence Risk, and Race in Juvenile Detention: Implications for Disproportionate Minority Contact

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Abstract

Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) is a pervasive problem throughout the juvenile justice system. This article explored whether mental illness may be an explanatory factor in DMC. Data such as measures of violence risk and symptoms of mental illness were taken from intake interviews with 482 detained youth in Connecticut. Results indicated that racial minorities in detention have significantly lower violence risk than Caucasians but are disproportionately represented among detention populations relative to their proportions in the general population. In addition, DMC in these data was not explained by mental illness, seriousness of charges, violence risk, age, or gender. We suggest that mandated efforts to reduce DMC will need to address more than improving behavior or reducing symptoms of mental illness among detained minority youth. Instead, efforts should be focused on reducing the racial disparity evident in decisions made within the juvenile justice system.

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