// black kids // white kids

Illegal Behavior Before Arrest

who decides a child should be arrested?

While we often think of arrest as the “beginning” of the juvenile justice system, it is critically important to understand what happens before the decision to arrest, to understand what drives particular young people’s involvement in the system. Research tells us that teenagers self-report offending behavior at very similar rates across different racial and ethnic groups for most offenses. However, as we discuss later, children of color, and children from particular groups or areas of the state, are arrested, charged in court, detained, and sentenced to out of home confinement at much higher rates than their peers.

The chart below shows that out of the nearly half-million children aged 12-17 in the Commonwealth, more than half (60%) report engaging in illegal activity, namely drinking alcohol. (The actual number may be higher, as self-report data often under-counts.)

As the following chart shows, while a majority of teenagers engage in some chargeable offense, only a small fraction of these children get identified as having done something illegal and/or end up arrested.