Growing Numbers of Latino and Native Youth in Juvenile Detention Buck Trend

Updated on September 23, 2020, and originally posted September 23, 2020, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Multiracial young man

A sur­vey by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion of youth jus­tice agen­cies in 34 states finds that after falling sharply in the ear­ly months of the pan­dem­ic, the num­ber of young peo­ple held in deten­tion cen­ters remained con­stant between May and August 2020. Even more con­cern­ing, the sur­vey finds that the num­ber of Lati­no and Native Amer­i­can youth in deten­tion cen­ters increased from May to August, revers­ing some of the gains made in the first months of the pan­dem­ic and wors­en­ing racial and eth­nic disparities.

It’s alarm­ing that in spite of the risks of COVID-19 and how eas­i­ly it can spread in deten­tion cen­ters, the pop­u­la­tion of Lati­no and Native Amer­i­can young peo­ple has actu­al­ly increased,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group.

While the over­all num­ber of young peo­ple in deten­tion on August 1, 2020, was 32% below its pre-pan­dem­ic lev­el, the pop­u­la­tion has bare­ly fluc­tu­at­ed since May. The stag­na­tion is hap­pen­ing amid wors­en­ing virus indi­ca­tors in youth deten­tion facil­i­ties this sum­mer, leav­ing thou­sands of con­fined young peo­ple with­out access to oppor­tu­ni­ties or con­nec­tions and increas­ing­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the virus.

The addi­tion­al risk of trans­mis­sion of COVID-19 should make safe­ly shrink­ing the pop­u­la­tion the pri­or­i­ty for youth jus­tice sys­tems when it comes to their use of secure deten­tion,” Balis says. Sim­ply main­tain­ing the pop­u­la­tion ignores increas­ing evi­dence of the virus in youth deten­tion facil­i­ties, despite the pre­cau­tions many have taken.”

Key Find­ings From the Juve­nile Jus­tice Survey

These trends are reflect­ed in an Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion sur­vey of juris­dic­tions around the coun­try aimed at assess­ing the effects of the pan­dem­ic on juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems through August 12020.

COVID-19 was more preva­lent across deten­tion facil­i­ties in August than in pri­or months.

At the time of the sur­vey, juris­dic­tions report­ed 103 young peo­ple and 172 staff mem­bers who were con­firmed or sus­pect­ed to have COVID-19. The num­ber of youth cas­es in August was the high­est report­ed in this sur­vey to date. The preva­lence of active COVID-19 cas­es among youth in deten­tion in August was three and a half times high­er than for the Unit­ed States pop­u­la­tion as a whole.

Active COVID-19 cases in 2020 as a percentage of the population

The num­ber of juris­dic­tions with cas­es increased and so did the like­li­hood that a young per­son in deten­tion was in a juris­dic­tion with one or more active cas­es. Forty-one per­cent of all youth in deten­tion as of August 1 were in juris­dic­tions report­ing active COVID-19 cas­es among youth and/​or staff — an expo­sure rate almost dou­bling the 24% ini­tial peak in May. The Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics cites a grave risk of dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences from the coro­n­avirus” for youth in the jus­tice system.

Despite greater inci­dence of COVID-19 in secure deten­tion, admis­sions have risen, and the pop­u­la­tion has been flat since May.

June and July saw small ris­es in admis­sions per day, off­set by some mod­est accel­er­a­tion in the pace of releas­es. As a result, the pop­u­la­tion of detained youth held steady. The release rate is the per­cent­age of all young peo­ple in deten­tion at any point dur­ing a month who were released before the end of that month. On aver­age, the high­er the release rate, the short­er the stays in detention.

Dis­par­i­ties that dis­ad­van­tage Lati­no and Native Amer­i­can youth com­pared to white youth grew from May to August.

In June and July, among juris­dic­tions that pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by race and eth­nic­i­ty, white youth con­tin­ued to be released from deten­tion faster than youth of col­or. The gap favor­ing white youth has grown since before the pan­dem­ic began in Feb­ru­ary, par­tic­u­lar­ly com­pared with Lati­no and Native Amer­i­can youth. In July, the release rate was 61% among white youth com­pared with 55% among Black youth. The rate was 52% for Lati­no youth and worse still among Native Amer­i­can youth (50%).

At the same time, dis­par­i­ties in admis­sions have increas­ing­ly dis­ad­van­taged youth of col­or, espe­cial­ly Lati­no youth. The rate of admis­sions per day, after falling by rough­ly half for all groups in the first two months of the pan­dem­ic, ticked up by 10% among white youth from April to July. It increased among Black youth by 20% and surged among Lati­no youth by 28%.

Population of white and black youth in detention fell between May and August 2020 while the number of Latino and Native American youth grew

Far­ing worse in both release rate and admis­sions, the detained pop­u­la­tion actu­al­ly increased between May 1 and August 1 among Lati­no youth (9% increase) and Native Amer­i­can youth (31% increase), revers­ing much of the decrease in deten­tion among these groups between March 1 and May 1. The detained pop­u­la­tion of all oth­er youth declined by 4% dur­ing that time.

One of every three youth in deten­tion on August 1, 2020, would not have been in deten­tion if the release rate had stayed at its March level.

Had the release rate in June and July stayed at the March rate of 65%, then far few­er young peo­ple would have been held in deten­tion on August 1, 2020. The actu­al pop­u­la­tion as of August 1 was 2,961. It would have been more than one-third low­er, just 1,881, if the March rate were main­tained. Among juris­dic­tions that pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by race and eth­nic­i­ty, if all youth had been released in every post-pan­dem­ic month as quick­ly as white youth were released in March, then the pop­u­la­tion would have been 38% low­er for white youth and 52% low­er for non-white youth.

One of every three youth in detention in August 2020 would have been home if monthly release rates had stayed at March level

The Role of Deten­tion Cen­ters in Juve­nile Justice

Deten­tion cen­ters are dif­fer­ent than youth pris­ons or oth­er res­i­den­tial place­ments where young peo­ple could be sen­tenced after being adju­di­cat­ed delin­quent. Rather, deten­tion is a cru­cial ear­ly phase in the juve­nile jus­tice process. It’s the point when the courts decide whether to con­fine a young per­son pend­ing their court hear­ing or while await­ing place­ment into a cor­rec­tion­al or treat­ment facil­i­ty rather than allow­ing the young per­son to remain at home. Every year, an esti­mat­ed 195,000 young peo­ple spend time in deten­tion facil­i­ties nation­wide, despite the neg­a­tive effects of deten­tion on young peo­ple and per­sis­tent racial dis­par­i­ties in who is detained.

About the Survey

Work­ing with the Pre­tri­al Jus­tice Insti­tute and Empact Solu­tions, the Foun­da­tion first col­lect­ed data just weeks after the coro­n­avirus arrived in the Unit­ed States.

The juris­dic­tions respond­ing to the lat­est sur­vey are home to 30% of the U.S. youth pop­u­la­tion, ages 10 to 17. Most of the respond­ing com­mu­ni­ties are involved in the Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive® (JDAI®), a net­work of juve­nile jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers and oth­er sys­tem stake­hold­ers across the coun­try work­ing to build a bet­ter and more equi­table youth jus­tice system.

This sur­vey, con­duct­ed from August 5 to 26 and cov­er­ing the peri­od from Jan­u­ary 1 to August 1, is unique because it reports on data from hun­dreds of juris­dic­tions in close to real time. Infor­ma­tion came from large urban coun­ties and small rur­al courts, among a wide range of juris­dic­tions that col­lec­tive­ly held 4,324 young peo­ple in secure deten­tion on March 1, 2020. For per­spec­tive, approx­i­mate­ly 15,660 young peo­ple were held in deten­tion nation­al­ly on any giv­en night, accord­ing to the most recent fed­er­al data from 2017.

There are no direct points of com­par­i­son that place these data in con­text. Avail­able data on deten­tion uti­liza­tion from nation­al sur­veys indi­cate that sig­nif­i­cant changes in deten­tion typ­i­cal­ly accrue over sev­er­al years. The data are self-report­ed, and we can­not inde­pen­dent­ly vouch for their accuracy.

This is a non-ran­dom sam­ple, so it is not an accu­rate source from which to derive nation­al esti­mates nor deter­mine sta­tis­ti­cal­ly how rep­re­sen­ta­tive this group of juris­dic­tions is of the nation as a whole. While there is over­lap, the pool of juris­dic­tions reply­ing to a month­ly sur­vey is unique to that sur­vey alone, so month­ly results can­not be direct­ly compared.

Find a set of ques­tions that can help juve­nile jus­tice lead­ers reduce youth detention

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