Book Review: Race and Juvenile Justice


Race and Juvenile Justice, Edited by Everette Penn, Helen Taylor Greene, Shaun L. Gabbidon. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2006, 266 pp. $28.00, paperback. ISBN 0-89089-572-4

Scott H. Belshaw
Doctoral Student
Prairie View A&M; University

(Recently selected for Fall 2006 publication in Journal of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice)

There exists a large diverse body of literature on race related issues in the juvenile justice system; however, Race and Juvenile Justice brings all the relevant literature into one volume of essays from noted criminologists and scholars. During the past few decades, more publications than ever before have devoted considerable attention to the widening of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. Numerous articles have been written in scholarly journals bridging the gap between racial disparities and racial discrimination in the juvenile justice system. Penn hypothesizes that during the 1980s and 1990s more book-length works have begun to appear. Some examples of these works as cited by Penn are: The Criminal Justice System and Blacks (1984) by Georges-Abeyie; Unequal Justice: A question of color (1993) by C. Mann; Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice (1981) by R.L. Mcneely & C. Pope and The Myth of a racist criminal justice system (1987) by W. Wilbanks. Finally, some of these works focus primarily on disparities amongst African-Americans in the United States however, Penn and colleagues have compiled a diverse volume of racial problems that are experienced by other races not regularly included in previous literature.

Everette Penn et al encourages the reader to examine the larger picture when it comes to race in the juvenile justice system. Penn brings together a plethora of experts that examine the racial disparity issues not only from an African-American perspective but from those of Latino, American Indian and Asian youths. A large portion of the literature on racial disparity digresses from the most often-studied minority- the African-American population. Part one of this compendium covers racial issues from the numerous ethnic populations. Part two includes six chapters that focus on contemporary issues in juvenile justice and the final chapter then brings the relevant research together and applies it to practical theory by discussing practical delinquency intervention strategies. The authors state that their purpose for writing this book is to fill the gap that currently exists in the coverage of minority youth both in textbooks on juvenile justice and on juvenile delinquency, and among interested readers (Penn, 4).

Penn takes the time to include current research concerning race in the juvenile justice system in one volume that links research, theory and practice for students and practitioners in the criminal justice field. Some of book’s major chapters include, but are not limited to:

A focus on “White Delinquency” including trends of delinquency including alcohol and drug usage;

Exploration of barriers related to Latinos by noted criminologist Myrna Cintron. Cintron includes theoretical differences including language challenges and immigration problems;

Race and Juvenile Justice explores the evolution of disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) as it related to black youths from a historical analysis from noted attorney and juvenile justice scholar Berry Feld. Feld discuses the role of the Supreme Court’s decisions, especially their impact in due process rulings that changes the future of the juvenile court system;

Unnithan examines juvenile delinquency phenomenons within the Asian population. Unnithan examines the lack of literature and under-reporting issues within the juvenile justice system;

A theoretical evolution of domestic violence within the juvenile population is examined;

Real-world strategies for prevention are included in the book’s final chapter.

Utilizing these foundations, Penn offers the criminal justice community a valuable contribution to the juvenile justice literature. This book would be well suited for a race and juvenile justice class at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Chapter 1 covers the problem of white delinquency in the United States. Pamela Preston discusses current trends that affect delinquent white juveniles in the 1990s and includes a comparison of rural, suburban and urban arrest records. Preston includes the relevant literature and also discusses the perception of white delinquents after a decade of school shootings culminating with the Columbine shootings.

In Chapter 2, Myrna Cintron discusses the growing problem of Latino (to include collectively, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central and South Americans, Dominicans and others of Spanish and Latin American descent.) delinquency in the United States. Cintron includes the current quantitative and qualitative research from a social, historical and environmental perspective. In the beginning of this chapter, Cintron gives an overview of delinquency within the Latino population and subsequently moves into a discussion of group characteristics and influences in delinquency rates within the Latino community.

In Chapter 3, Everette Penn discusses black youth, the disproportionate confinement rate and how and why it has become such a concern of the federal government. Penn incorporates into this chapter how juvenile justice workers have a large amount of autonomy when it comes to discretion and how their interaction has developed a cumulative effect on defendants in the juvenile justice system. Penn includes a brief history of black youth and their involvement in the juvenile justice system.

In Chapter 4, Unnithan produces information and research about the interactions of Asian-Americans with the criminal justice system in the United States. A very small body of literature exists in regards to Asian-American delinquency; however, Unnithan provides a realistic analysis to the current research as well as discussing influences in immigration and gang issues.

Chapter 5 focuses on Native American youth and delinquency. Just as in comparison with Unnithan’s research on Asian-Americans, Laurence French discusses the lack of research on Native American juvenile delinquency. French also explores how federal Indian laws have affected policy in the prevention and intervention of juvenile delinquency in Indian country. The Department of Justice has compiled historical data in reference to juvenile crime and delinquency within the Native American population. With this in mind, French develops a quick survey of the Department of Justice’s findings which allows the reader to have a survey of the current data and explores the contrasts in group harmony as compared to other ethnic groups. This chapter is concluded with an explanation of the sudden rise in Native American gangs and strategies to assist in reducing this phenomenon.

The 6th chapter begins part II with a survey of contemporary literature in juvenile justice. This chapter analyzes juvenile victimization while living in the households where domestic violence is present. Lee Ross analyzes the victimization of African-American juveniles and the effect that violence has on this population. Ross includes a qualitative case study outlining Michael, an African-American child of 10 years of age, that is constantly exposed to violence in his household and how it affects his life and community. Ross includes a macro-sociological approach utilizing Michael as the catalyst in discussing how taking a quantitative approach to measure delinquency with some exposure to domestic violence sometime in their lifetime. Ross concludes this chapter by introducing the role of education in curbing the violence that children observe on a daily basis.

In Chapter 7 Marilyn McShane and Frank P. Williams III discuss the evolution of youth gangs and gang membership as it applies to low economic status in minority populations. McShane and Williams state that gang development is, without exception, a response to social and cultural adjustment by members of minority groups and the poor and powerless in society (Penn, 113). The authors examine various approaches to reduce gang involvement by analyzing community and legal programs to assist in eradicating the problems, not necessarily the symptoms.

Chapter 8 introduces the application of race and ethnicity in the juvenile justice system as it applies to the death penalty. Daniel Georges-Abeyie discusses the execution of juveniles as a worldwide human rights issue in contemporary criminal justice. Georges-Abeyie compares the execution of juveniles in the United States to petit apartheid, a term used to describe the unofficial mores and norms of a nation. He talks about the how the use of the death penalty in the United States places the nation at odds with the world community even though it is contradictory to human rights and international law.

In Chapter 9 Michael Lieber examines the phenomenon of disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) of youth and how the states and federal government have measured up after the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Lieber states that the politics of race, crime, and racial bias, coupled with state resistance and practical considerations, led OJJDP to adopt a tentative approach to DMC (Penn, 159). The states have made little movement to address DMC issues that were addressed in the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974; however, Lieber hypothesizes that even though little movement has been made, a reduction has been measured in some states.

Chapter 10 addresses constitutional issues as it applies to juvenile justice. Attorney and scholar Berry Feld explores the “due process revolution” and the changes that the courts have made in the last half century. This article synthesizes and analyzes research on history, law, sociology, criminology, current events, race relations and media studies (Penn, 188). This analysis treats the changes in juvenile justice law and policy as the dependent variable in relation to the Warren Court changes in juvenile law.

In chapter 11 Everette Penn and Helen Taylor Greene bring to a logical conclusion a discussion of lessons learned in reducing juvenile delinquency. The authors state that the purpose of this chapter is to examine what we have learned about reducing juvenile delinquency by summarily focusing on prevention strategies that have emerged in the past two decades (Penn, 224).

In conclusion, Race and Juvenile Justice is an outstanding book that brings together the current race and ethnicity literature in juvenile justice. For those with little familiarity with the subject of race in the juvenile justice system, Race and Juvenile Justice provides a very broad pass and covers many significant details that will allow the reader to obtain a snapshot of the current research in the field. Race and Juvenile Justice offers something for everyone. It is a compendium of current research that can be read by scholars and laymen alike. This book should be a core requirement for all undergraduate and graduate courses in race and juvenile justice.


Georges-Abeyie, D. (ed.) (1984) The Criminal Justice System and Blacks. New York: Oxford University Press

Mann, C.R. (1993) Unequal Justice: A question of color. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press

Mcneely, R.L. & Pope, C (Eds.) (1981) Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications

Penn, Everette & Greene, Helen Taylor & Gabbidon, Shaun L. (Eds.) (2006) Race and Juvenile Justice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press

Wilbanks, W. (1987). The Myth of a racist criminal justice system. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.


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