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Racial Disparities in Official Assessments of Juvenile Offenders: Attributional Stereotypes as Mediating Mechanisms

Despite extensive sociological research, little evidence exists on how court officials’ perceptions of offenders influence their classification, assessment, and final recommendations for punishment. We examine the links among these factors, focusing specifically on the race of the accused. Our analysis combines information from probation officers’ written accounts of juvenile offenders and their crimes and court records about the offenders. We find pronounced differences in officers’ attributions about the causes of crime by white versus minority youths. Further, these differences contribute significantly to differential assessments of the risk of reoffending and to sentence recommendations, even after adjusting for legally relevant case and offender characteristics. These results suggest that differential attributions about the causes of crime act as a mediating factor between race and sentencing recommendations.