Disproportionate Minority Contact: An Expanded Examination of how Threat of Violent and Sexual Offending Impacts Court Outcomes

Rebecca L. Fix, Amanda M. Fanniff, Julia L. Kline, Elizabeth J. Letourneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Racial disparities in the U.S. juvenile justice system appear to be attenuated for people with sexual and violent versus drug and property offenses. Existing theories such as the racial threat hypothesis partially explain these racial disparities, but the definition of “threat” could limit our ability to explain juvenile justice outcomes across offense categories. Importantly, research often overlooks the different and unique threats associated with violent and sexual crimes. The present study examined impacts of racial threat and an expanded definition of “threat” associated with violent and sexual crime on (a) preadjudication detention and (b) dispositions of postadjudication confinement. Statewide archival court data were obtained regarding 212,274 male and female adolescents. In the full models, less severe violent (assault vs. homicide) and sexual offenses (indecent exposure and child pornography vs. sexual abuse) were associated with lower use of detention and secure confinement. This impact of specific violent and sexual offenses on court outcomes were observed in models run with Black adolescents and models separated by violent offenses and sexual offenses. Higher rates of county-level homicide prosecutions and White-to-Black unemployment were significantly and positively associated with detention and confinement, respectively. Racial threat and other theories aiming to explain racial disparities should be reexamined and modified to include markers of violent and sexual offense stigma and threat. Further, models testing racial disparities should include an expanded definition of “threat” in selecting indicators. Our suggested modified theory could better elucidate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and presents important practice implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRace and Justice
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Black
  • disproportionate minority contact
  • minority threat
  • sexual offending

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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