Survey: 52% Drop in Admissions to Youth Detention in Two Months Matches Reduction Over 13 Years

Posted June 3, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The percentage decline in admissions to juvenile detention over two months equaled the national decline achieved over 13 years

The rate of young peo­ple admit­ted to deten­tion has fall­en by 52% dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, accord­ing to a new sur­vey of juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies in 33 states — equal­ing in two months a nation­al decline that took 13 years.

The two-month rapid decline in admis­sions seen in March and April 2020 is reflect­ed in an Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion sur­vey of juris­dic­tions around the coun­try aimed at assess­ing the effects of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic on juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. Work­ing with the Pre­tri­al Jus­tice Insti­tute and Empact Solu­tions, the Foun­da­tion first col­lect­ed data just weeks after the coro­n­avirus arrived in the Unit­ed States.

But while admis­sions into deten­tion have dra­mat­i­cal­ly slowed, sys­tems also have slowed the rate at which they release young peo­ple from facil­i­ties — leav­ing many still liv­ing in con­fine­ment with­out access to oppor­tu­ni­ties or con­nec­tions, and poten­tial­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the virus. After a burst of releas­es in March, the rate of release of young peo­ple from secure deten­tion in April dropped below its pre-COVID-19 lev­el, the lat­est data col­lect­ed by the sur­vey showed.

It is under­stand­able and laud­able that juris­dic­tions have focused so much of their ener­gy on keep­ing youth out of deten­tion,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. The next fron­tiers are get­ting youth out of deten­tion more quick­ly and under­stand­ing and tack­ling the obsta­cles stand­ing in the way.”

The juve­nile deten­tion pop­u­la­tion fell more steeply for African Amer­i­can youth than for white youth, based on a sub­set of juris­dic­tions that respond­ed with infor­ma­tion dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by race and eth­nic­i­ty. While the pop­u­la­tion reduc­tions for African Amer­i­can youth were only slight­ly larg­er, they are sig­nif­i­cant sim­ply because youth jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers have strug­gled for decades to make progress in reduc­ing dis­par­i­ties for young peo­ple of col­or, who are con­sis­tent­ly over­rep­re­sent­ed in the nation’s court­rooms and deten­tion cen­ters, youth pris­ons and oth­er res­i­den­tial institutions.

The juris­dic­tions respond­ing to the lat­est sur­vey are home to 35% 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.

Begun almost three decades ago as a pilot project to reduce reliance on deten­tion, JDAI is active in more than 300 cities and coun­ties in 40 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

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 at which 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 218,000 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.

Key Find­ings From Juve­nile Jus­tice Survey

The sur­vey find­ings include the following:

Secure deten­tion pop­u­la­tions fell by a third.

Juvenile detention population decreased by a third between March 1 and May 1, 2020

Secure deten­tion pop­u­la­tions fell by 32% from March 1 to May 1 (from 4,515 to 3,081). This decrease occurred broad­ly, with 68% of respond­ing juris­dic­tions see­ing a decrease from March 1 to May 1. Fif­teen per­cent saw no change and 17% had an increase in population.

The decrease in pop­u­la­tion was dri­ven pri­mar­i­ly by a steep decline in the rate of admissions.

In Feb­ru­ary, these juris­dic­tions report­ed an aver­age of 207 admis­sions per day. But in April, the aver­age was less than 100 admis­sions per day ― 52% below the pre-pan­dem­ic rate.

Most juris­dic­tions were able to increase the rate at which they were releas­ing young peo­ple from secure deten­tion in March, but in April the rate of releas­es slowed to less than their pre-COVID-19 rate.

Juvenile justice systems increased their release rates from detention in March 2020

In Feb­ru­ary, an aver­age of about 56% of young peo­ple who were in deten­tion dur­ing the month were released by the end of the month. In March, even while admis­sions were plum­met­ing, that release rate increased to 61%. But in April, it fell to 53%.

Pop­u­la­tion declines were slight­ly steep­er for youth of color.

The juvenile justice population fell more steeply for African American youth than for white

Among juris­dic­tions that pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by race and eth­nic­i­ty, about one-fifth of detained young peo­ple are white, while more than half are African Amer­i­can and near­ly one-fourth are Lati­no. As deten­tion pop­u­la­tions have grad­u­al­ly fall­en year by year, white youth have often seen high­er rates of decrease than youth of col­or. But over the first two months of the pan­dem­ic cri­sis, the largest per­cent­age decreas­es in deten­tion have been among youth of col­or. While the num­ber of white youths in deten­tion fell by 26% from March 1 to May 1, the num­ber of African Amer­i­can youths and Lati­no youths fell by 30% and 29% respec­tive­ly. This has been a result both of larg­er decreas­es in the rate of admis­sions and small­er decreas­es in the release rate among youth of col­or than among white youth.

Most juris­dic­tions report­ed no cas­es of COVID-19 as of May.

At the time of the sur­vey in May, 65% of the juris­dic­tions respond­ing said that they had access to infor­ma­tion about COVID-19 cas­es among youth and/​or staff in deten­tion facil­i­ties. Among those with access to that infor­ma­tion, the vast major­i­ty (85%) report­ed no con­firmed or sus­pect­ed COVID-19 cas­es among their staff or youth.

Among the 15% that did, they iden­ti­fied a total of 65 youth cas­es as of May and anoth­er 19 youth recov­ered. The sur­vey was not designed to cal­cu­late COVID-19 preva­lence rates for indi­vid­ual facil­i­ties, but among juris­dic­tions report­ing any youth cas­es, the num­ber of cas­es they report­ed was about 8% of their com­bined pop­u­la­tions as of May 1. They report­ed a sim­i­lar num­ber of staff cas­es, with 60 cur­rent cas­es con­firmed or sus­pect­ed and anoth­er 20 recovered.

The ear­li­est report­ed case among staff was March 10 and the most recent on May 19. The ear­li­est report­ed case among youth was March 26 and the most recent on May 15.

About the Survey

This sur­vey, con­duct­ed from May 6 to 15 and cov­er­ing the peri­od from Jan­u­ary 1 to May 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 more than 4,500 youths in secure deten­tion on March 1, 2020. For per­spec­tive, approx­i­mate­ly 15,660 young peo­ple are held in deten­tion nation­al­ly on any giv­en night, accord­ing to the most recent fed­er­al data in 2017.

There are no direct points of com­par­i­son that place this two-month reduc­tion in con­text. Avail­able data on deten­tion uti­liza­tion from nation­al sur­veys indi­cate that sig­nif­i­cant changes in deten­tion typ­i­cal­ly accrue over sev­er­al years.

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. A greater num­ber of juris­dic­tions replied to the sur­vey in May than dur­ing the ini­tial data col­lec­tion in April, so their results can­not be direct­ly compared.

Addi­tion­al resources

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