C. Juvenile-court Processing

Even if students are referred to the juvenile justice system, their cases may not be formally processed. In most states, processing decisions in juvenile cases are generally made either by intake staff at youth-services agencies or attorneys in juvenile justice systems.  "Many referrals are dismissed or disposed of informally by counseling, warning, referral to another agency, or informal probation."   One study of juvenile-court processing in Missouri found that 20.6% of cases were rejected and another 46.8% were processed informally.   Predictably, juveniles accused of more serious offenses were more likely to have their cases formally processed.   The processing decision is widely seen as the most critical determinant of a case's final disposition.   By deciding whether the case will go to juvenile court, the intake worker has a powerful effect on the sanctions a young person will eventually receive.  

Research suggests that race plays a role in the way juvenile-court cases are processed. In the Missouri study discussed above, researchers found that even after controlling for the type of offense, nonwhite juveniles were more likely to have their cases formally processed than white juveniles.   Somewhat surprisingly, the researchers also found that nonwhite youths were more likely to have their cases rejected by intake officers.   However, based on research showing that people of color are more likely to be arrested on weaker evidence, the study's authors suggested that the seemingly lenient treatment might actually be a result of intake personnel correcting biases that occurred at the arrest stage.  

Another study of juvenile-court processing in Florida showed that "53% of nonwhite youths ... [were] recommended for referral to court, compared to 42% of white youths."   This study looked more closely at the reasons behind  *1262 disparities by conducting qualitative interviews with juvenile justice officials.   Although some respondents attributed the racial disparities to prejudicial attitudes, others noted that well-intended policies and practices had differential impacts on whites and people of color.   For example, one agency policy rendered youth ineligible for diversion programs if their parents or guardians could not be contacted, if parents were unable to be present for an intake interview, or if parents appeared to be uncooperative with intake staff.   Policies such as these frequently singled out young people of color for formal processing, leading to a disproportionate number of minority youth in juvenile court.