As Pandemic Eases, Youth Detention Population Creeps Up

Posted May 10, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog aspandemiceases 2021

A month­ly sur­vey by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion of youth jus­tice agen­cies finds that since last May, the use of juve­nile deten­tion is down for white youth, but up for their Black and Lati­no peers. Black and Lati­no youth account for an increas­ing share of the detained pop­u­la­tion because agen­cies are slow­er to release them from deten­tion than white youth, accord­ing to data through March 12021.

While the deten­tion pop­u­la­tion over­all fell by about 28% from March 2020 to March 2021 — due to a dra­mat­ic drop in admis­sions to deten­tion since the first months of the pan­dem­ic, the pace of releas­es con­tin­ues to lag behind pre-pan­dem­ic lev­els. As a result, the pop­u­la­tion is creep­ing back up, leav­ing many young peo­ple — dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly Black and Lati­no — con­fined with lim­it­ed in-per­son con­nec­tion to their fam­i­lies, and poten­tial­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the virus. In the first two months of 2021 alone, 200 more youths were held in deten­tion than at the end of 2020 — an increase of 7%.

Month after month, juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems are fail­ing to show enough urgency in get­ting kids out of deten­tion — espe­cial­ly youth of col­or who, as a group, are get­ting stuck in deten­tion,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group.

Pace of Releas­es Slow­er for Youth of Color

Youth Detention Release Rate by Race (Jan 1, 2020–March 1, 2021)

Black and Lati­no youth lan­guished in deten­tion for longer than their white peers even before the onset of the pan­dem­ic — but the dis­par­i­ties have got­ten worse as the pan­dem­ic has endured. This data point alone — the dis­par­i­ties in release rate by race and eth­nic­i­ty — accounts for all of the increase in the Black and Lati­no share of the detained pop­u­la­tion over the past year. By the num­bers, in Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary of 2020, the release rate for Black youth was 4% low­er — and the rate for Lati­no youth was 6% low­er — than for white youth. But over the course of the pan­dem­ic, the size of those gaps has rough­ly dou­bled, to 11% for both Black and Lati­no youth.

Pop­u­la­tion Dis­par­i­ties Remain for Youth of Color

Youth Detention Population by Race (Mar 1, 2020–Mar 1, 2021)

Results from March 1, 2021 show that the num­ber of Black and Lati­no youth in deten­tion remained high­er than in the Spring of 2020, while the num­ber of white youths in deten­tion had declined. This diver­gence by race and eth­nic­i­ty is due sole­ly to the low­er release rate for Black and Lati­no youth.

Youth Detention Population (Jan. 1, 2020–March 1, 2021)

When the pan­dem­ic began in March 2020, juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems were quick to release youth from deten­tion facil­i­ties due to pub­lic health con­cerns. Release rates spiked for youth of all races and eth­nic­i­ties. But releas­es have slowed dra­mat­i­cal­ly every month since then. Over­all, the pace of releas­es in the first two months of 2021 was about 16% slow­er than the same peri­od in 2020, just before the pan­dem­ic. If juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies had main­tained the release rate from last March, 44% few­er youth would be locked up as of March 12021.

About the Survey

The March 1, 2021 report cap­tures trends from 143 juris­dic­tions across 34 states, rep­re­sent­ing 35% of the nation’s youth pop­u­la­tion (ages 10 to 17). For trends by race, the analy­sis rep­re­sents infor­ma­tion from 139 juris­dic­tions across 33 states, which con­tain 33% of the nation’s 10- to 17-year-olds.

Read more about how the sur­vey is con­duct­ed and see pre­vi­ous data releases

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