Neighborhood Racial Composition Influences Disparities in Arrest Rates

Understanding Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Arrest: The Role of Individual, Home, School, and Community Characteristics
Lauren Nichol Gase, Beth A. Glenn, Louis M. Gomez, Tony Kuo, Moira Inkelas, and Ninez A. Ponce.
Publication Date:
Find Full Text

In the United States, Black and Latinx people experience disproportionately high rates of arrest. This study looks beyond individual characteristics to the broader web of home, school, and neighborhood factors that influence racial and ethnic disparities in contact with the justice system.

The authors analyzed the relationship between arrests and a variety of contextual characteristics using self-reported data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). The authors examined the following factors:

  • demographics, including gender, age, and time in the US
  • delinquent behaviors, including property crime, violent crime, truancy, drug use, and alcohol use
  • home characteristics, including number of adults in the home, parent education level, household income, and strength of the parent-child relationship
  • school characteristics, including school type (public, magnet, vocational, or private), school size, average daily attendance, number of school services, and the school’s suspension policy
  • neighborhood characteristics, including crime rate, poverty rate, unemployment rate, vacant housing, and neighborhood composition, measured by the proportion of white residents

The authors examined how much racial and ethnic differences in arrest could be attributed to each of these factors and concluded that neighborhood racial composition may be one of the key factors driving racial and ethnic disparities in arrest rates.

Key findings
  • About 30 percent of respondents reported having ever been arrested, and Black and Latinx respondents reported higher arrest rates than white respondents.
  • Differences in arrest were not explained by differences in individual-level delinquent behaviors. After controlling for delinquent behaviors, Black respondents still had higher rates of arrest than white respondents.
  • Controlling for home characteristics and school characteristics did not significantly alter the association between race and ethnicity and rate of arrest.
  • Neighborhood composition (the share of white residents in the neighborhood) was the primary driver of racial and ethnic differences in arrests. As the percentage of white residents in the neighborhood increased, white respondents’ odds of being arrested decreased, but the odds of being arrested for Black respondents and Latinx respondents remained the same.
Policy implications
  • Results point to the important role of neighborhood racial composition in influencing racial and ethnic disparities in arrest, above and beyond socioeconomic indicators of poverty, unemployment, vacant housing, or school quality.
  • To reduce Black and Latinx people’s disproportionate contact with the justice system, the authors suggest that policymakers consider the role of criminal justice practices and policies such as policing and critically examine how these practices differ across neighborhoods.