Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the United States represents a critical social challenge to promoting the ideals and values of social justice. The ecological nature of DMC, a phenomenon emerging from the intersection of micro- and macro-level factors, necessitates the application of systems theories in understanding the issue and designing solutions to address it. This article illustrates the application of socio-ecological systems theory in thematic analysis, drawing associations across multiple systems between contributing factors to DMC in the juvenile justice system in North Carolina, USA. Analysis examined data from 6 focus groups comprised of 55 statewide stakeholders involved in the juvenile justice continuum. Application of socio-ecological systems theory in thematic analysis revealed structural and individual conditions associated with DMC, to include institutional racism demonstrated by biases present in stakeholders across schools and the juvenile justice system. The article presents ways in which micro to macro factors influence social challenges. Findings present an analytic strategy for constructing a practical model in qualitative research of contributing mechanisms to DMC and addressing issues of social justice in the United States.


Socio-Ecological Theory, Focus Groups, Qualitative Inquiry, Disproportionate Minority Contact, Social Justice, Thematic Analysis

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Dawn X. Henderson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Winston-Salem State University. She is trained as a community psychologist and her research applies a socio-ecological systems framework in examining community and school-based interventions in promoting resilience and educational inclusion among economically disadvantaged and ethnically diverse youth. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Dawn X. Henderson at, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Winston-Salem State University, 203 Coltrane Hall, 601 Martin Luther King Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27110; Phone: 336-750-3156; E-mail: hendersondx@wssu.edu.

Dr. Tiffany Baffour is the Director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and Associate Professor of Social Work in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Winston-Salem State University. A researcher of health, social and racial justice issues, Baffour has led recent efforts as principal research investigator of an evaluation to examine the effectiveness of a community-based intervention aimed at ameliorating health disparities and senior researcher of a state-wide evaluation of Disproportionate Minority Contact within the North Carolina juvenile justice system. Her research interests are violence prevention, restorative justice theory, mental health, health disparities, and gender issues. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Tiffany D. Baffour at Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and Associate Professor of Social Work, Winston-Salem State University, Anderson Center Modular Unit 244, 601 Martin Luther King Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27110; Phone: 336-750-3416; E-mail: baffourt@wssu.edu.


The authors thank the original research team of faculty and students at Winston-Salem State University. A special thank you goes to members of the project team: Drs. Pedro Hernandez and Richard Moye, Alvin Atkinson, Jamie Mendenhall, Regina Autry, and Loring Greaeux. This project would not have been successful without funding from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





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