Study: Pretrial Juvenile Detention Increases Odds of Felony Recidivism by 33%

Posted July 1, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Study in Crime and Delinquency shows pretrial confinement not effective

Juris­dic­tions use pre­tri­al con­fine­ment to ensure that young peo­ple who have been accused of an offense attend court hear­ings. It is the most com­mon use of local deten­tion facil­i­ties, account­ing for 75% of all admissions.

Yet, a stay in pre­tri­al juve­nile deten­tion increas­es a young per­son­’s like­li­hood of felony recidi­vism by 33% and mis­de­meanor recidi­vism by 11%, accord­ing to a new peer-reviewed study pub­lished in Crime and Delin­quen­cy.

The study, con­duct­ed by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and sup­port­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, looked at how long young peo­ple spend in pre­tri­al deten­tion and what impact this has on recidi­vism. Its find­ings deliv­er a clear call for chang­ing the sta­tus quo in favor of strate­gies that avoid detain­ing young peo­ple before their cas­es are adjudicated.

The researchers found that any pre­tri­al deten­tion stay — regard­less of its length — increas­es the like­li­hood of recidi­vism. They also dis­cov­ered that when a young per­son spends addi­tion­al days in deten­tion for pre­tri­al rea­sons, their risk of recidi­vism jumps by 1% a day.

This study affirms what we have long believed — that young peo­ple are thrown off course by even a sin­gle day in pre­tri­al deten­tion,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. These young peo­ple, who are pre­sumed inno­cent because there has been no deter­mi­na­tion of guilt, are sep­a­rat­ed from their fam­i­lies, schools, jobs and com­mu­ni­ties with last­ing consequences.”

To assess the impact of pre­tri­al deten­tion, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton researchers ana­lyzed more than 46,000 juve­nile cas­es across 32 juris­dic­tions in a north­west state from Jan­u­ary 2002 through Decem­ber 2015.

The study defined recidi­vism as a record­ed court fil­ing by a pros­e­cu­tor with­in one year of a young person’s ini­tial offense (pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions were not includ­ed in this cal­cu­la­tion). This approach revealed a sig­nif­i­cant cor­re­la­tion between pre­tri­al deten­tion and both felony and mis­de­meanor recidi­vism with­in one year.”

Pre­tri­al deten­tion was asso­ci­at­ed with high­er felony recidi­vism for youth who had few or no pri­or arrests. Accord­ing to the study, detained youth who are at low­est risk for reof­fend­ing will learn deviant behav­iors, expe­ri­ence dis­rup­tion in impor­tant pro­tec­tive influ­ences, or be exposed to trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences when placed in secure care even for a very lim­it­ed duration.” 

In addi­tion, the find­ings did not sup­port the notion that pre­tri­al deten­tion served to dis­suade oth­er youth in the com­mu­ni­ty from com­mit­ting crimes.

As shown by our Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive®, there are more effec­tive and equi­table ways than deten­tion to ensure that young peo­ple who are arrest­ed — but who present no seri­ous and imme­di­ate threat to their com­mu­ni­ties — will appear in court,” Balis says.

Fol­low the con­ver­sa­tion about juve­nile jus­tice reform on JDAIconnect

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