The lifetime patterns of white and minority juvenile criminals are similar, but their punishment isn't, a study by the University of Utah Social Research Institute shows.

Youths of color make up only a fraction of the state's total juvenile population, but they account for almost half of those arrested for crimes against people. Youths of color represented 36 percent of those arrested for property crimes.The study was started last May and completed Feb. 1, 1995. Researchers looked at arrests, detention hearings, court referrals and convictions during 1993. It dealt only with Ogden, Salt Lake and Provo areas.

Minority youths are nine times more likely to be arrested for crimes against people, five times more likely to be arrested for property crimes, three times more likely to be put on probation and twice as likely to be turned over to Youth Corrections, the study showed.

The results of the study didn't surprise those working with the juvenile system.

"We've always been aware there's disproportionate representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system," said John McNamara, administrator of the state juvenile court. "This is not just a Utah issue. It's something being grappled with nationwide."

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that minorities are underrepresented in the staff who deal with the teens in the juvenile system, said Anne Nelsen, the director of the Salt Lake County Detention Center.

The study said the disproportionate numbers begin with arrests and continue throughout the juvenile justice system.

Nelsen agreed that it appears the further into the system one looks, the more over-represented minority youths become.

Longtime community activist John Florez wasn't surprised by the study's findings and attributes some problems to cultural misunderstandings.

"(Minority teens) are more likely to be arrested because they're less like those doing the arresting," Florez said. "I experienced that stuff when I was back in school."

Florez wondered if poor white children who committed similar crimes were treated the same as minority juveniles.

One reason, the study said, for the difference in treatment is a perception by those working in the system that minority youths are more dangerous.

Salt Lake police Lt. Scott Atkinson, who heads the Metro Gang Unit, said he doesn't believe that's true of police officers.

"It's their (teens') actions that lead us to stop them," he said, not their race.

Despite sensitivity training required of all police officers who graduate from the state's police academy, Atkinson agreed with the study's assertion that cultural differences cause misunderstandings.

"I know we don't always understand all the cultural differences," Atkinson said.

Jeffrey Jenson, who spearheaded the study, said his efforts were first to determine if there was a problem and then look at why.

"The study showed it did exist, which it does in nearly all the 50 states," Jenson said. Answering why it happens is much harder.

"We weren't able to shed as much light on why . . . but I think the study gives some good direction," Jenson said.

McNamara said those in the juvenile system plan to pick up where the study ends.

"We intend to get into this fully," McNamara said. "We want to know why."

Some of it may be a lack of viable alternatives that deals with a child's ethnic or racial concerns, he said.

"(The study) is not the end of it," McNamara said, "It's really just the start of it."