Dispositional Discretion or Disparity: The Juvenile Probation Officer's Role in Delinquency Processing

William A. Reese, Russell L. Curtis, James R. Whitworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Concerns about bias and disparity in case dispositions-despite inconclusive evidence-have recently spurred interactionist research into the organizational processes and functionaries of juvenile justice. This article reports a study of the role of the juvenile probation officer (JPO) in affecting dispositions, in which the effects of extralegal factors were systematically tested. In one juvenile probation department in the southwestern U.S., 87 JPOs each completed a survey and recommended three dispositions for the case of a juvenile delinquent. The results indicate that the JPOs' background characteristics, organizational situations, and attitudes toward delinquency were crucial variables explaining dispositional disparity. The authors posit that the “IPO factor” can produce treatment differences sufficient to undermine the rehabilitative ideal and confound studies of judicial bias, and suggest that understanding the systematic nature of this factor might facilitate needed reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-100
Number of pages20
JournalThe Journal of Applied Behavioral Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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