Background: Minority youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system in the United States. The term used to describe this phenomenon is disproportionate minority confinement (DMC). The impact of DMC on youth is significant and it also has a large impact on minority communities. As a result, the issue of DMC has become a source of political, social, and ethical debate.
Method: This paper reviews the history and degree of disparities around minority youth, the contributing factors to such disparities, how mental health disparities and treatment issues have contributed to juvenile justice disparities, and recommendations to address these disparities from the mental health perspective.
Results: Voluminous research supports the hypothesis that DMC is the result of differential selection and processing. Minority youth are more likely to be targeted by the police than White youth, more likely to be arrested, less likely to gain pre-trial release, more likely to be transferred to criminal court, regardless of offense type and age category, and more likely to receive a harsher sentence. Minority youth are less likely to have received mental health services prior to entering the juvenile justice system and are also less likely to be referred for treatment after they are in the system.
Conclusions: DMC is part of a larger problem involving disparities in mental health care, treatment of minority youth by law enforcement personnel, and lack of cultural competence in juvenile justice settings. Attempts to address the problem need to be comprehensive and multidisciplinary, and will require education, training, and resources.