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

Updated September 23, 2020 | 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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