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Department of Justice Reveals 60% Drop in Juvenile Incarceration

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Black youth, however, comprise 44 percent of incarcerated young people

Statement of Josh Rovner, Senior Advocacy Associate of The Sentencing Project

Police arrest black teenager

The Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s newly released 2017 figures on youth incarceration are worth celebrating. The data continue a trend dating back to 2001, the year the sustained decline began. It is especially encouraging to see fewer young people in these expensive and dangerous facilities even as states from Connecticut to Illinois to Louisiana have raised the age of criminal responsibility to return more teenaged cases to the juvenile courts. Critics suggested that moving more teenagers away from the adult criminal courts would overwhelm the juvenile justice system. Instead, the declines in incarceration and in offending have continued unabated.”

The data show a one-day count of youths incarcerated nationally fell to 43,580 in 2017, a 60 percent decline from 2000, the peak year of youth incarceration, and a 4 percent decline from 2016.

The declines in incarceration are mostly a result of declines in youth offending and arrests, though states and counties have helped by reforming their laws and practices to lock up fewer young people.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist

The data also reveal the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities. Though 15 percent of American youth are African American, African Americans are 41 percent of incarcerated youth.

However, the number of incarcerated youth of color fell faster than the overall total.

The 2017 numbers show the number of African American youth in juvenile facilities fell by 11 percent from 2015 to 2017, the number of incarcerated Latino youth fell by 13 percent, and the number of incarcerated Native youth fell by 10 percent. These segments compare favorably to an overall nine percent drop over this period.

“As the incarceration of youth has declined, hundreds of youth facilities have been closed by states and counties. The decisions to close facilities have been vindicated when dollars for incarceration have been redirected to better uses, such as education and prevention, instead of supporting near-empty buildings. The time is right to close even more juvenile jails and prisons.”

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