Youth Detention Use Reaches Highest Level in 19 Months

Posted December 14, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A man and his teenage son are standing outdoors and smiling at the camera.

The ear­li­est days of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic were marked by a dra­mat­ic drop in youth deten­tion. Yet, this trend hasn’t con­tin­ued, accord­ing to a month­ly sur­vey of youth jus­tice agen­cies by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The sur­vey — the only large-scale effort of its kind to gauge youth deten­tion pop­u­la­tions before and dur­ing the pan­dem­ic — found that the use of juve­nile deten­tion reached a 19-month high on Oct. 1, 2021. Despite this devel­op­ment, the youth deten­tion pop­u­la­tion is still 22% small­er than it was on March 1, 2020, before the pan­dem­ic began.

Black and Lati­no youth con­tin­ue to stay longer in deten­tion than their white peers — and even longer than before the pan­dem­ic began, accord­ing to the lat­est data, which was pulled on Octo­ber 12021.

It’s con­cern­ing that the juve­nile deten­tion pop­u­la­tion is the high­est it’s been since before the pan­dem­ic and that racial dis­par­i­ties have only wors­ened over the last 18 months,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. We know that even a short stay in deten­tion can have pro­found and poten­tial­ly life­long neg­a­tive con­se­quences for the young peo­ple involved.”

The charts below illus­trate the survey’s major findings.

The juve­nile deten­tion pop­u­la­tion is still 22% below its pre-pan­dem­ic level

The youth deten­tion pop­u­la­tion remains below its pre-pan­dem­ic lev­el. Yet, from May to Octo­ber 2021, the pop­u­la­tion count is an aver­age of 7% high­er than it was for the same months in 2020 and peaked at 3,043 in Octo­ber 12021.

Youth detention population (Jan. 1, 2020 to Oct. 1, 2021)

Reduc­tions in youth deten­tion were con­cen­trat­ed in half of the jurisdictions

On Octo­ber 1, 2021, the youth deten­tion pop­u­la­tion was 22% small­er than pre-pan­dem­ic count across the 129 juris­dic­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sur­vey. Half of these juris­dic­tions (64 total) saw youth deten­tion drop by 42%, with the sharp decrease of 2020 sus­tained through­out 2021. The remain­ing juris­dic­tions (65 total) report­ed deten­tion jump­ing 15% from March 1, 2020 to Octo­ber 1, 2021 — and most of this increase occurred since Jan­u­ary 2021. The juris­dic­tions that report­ed a shrink­ing deten­tion pop­u­la­tion count were gen­er­al­ly larg­er than the sites report­ing an uptick.

Percentage change in youth detention since March 1, 2020

Ana­lyz­ing the nation­al data this way sug­gests two dif­fer­ent worlds — places that have sus­tained large deten­tion pop­u­la­tion declines and, unfor­tu­nate­ly, places that have seen their ear­ly gains erased or even reversed,” says Balis. 

Black and Lati­no youth remain in deten­tion longer than their white peers

The month­ly sur­vey col­lects data bro­ken down by race and eth­nic­i­ty — a move that offers the juve­nile jus­tice field an unprece­dent­ed, near-real-time per­spec­tive on pan­dem­ic-era trends, includ­ing disparities.

Pace of releases from youth detention by race

When the pan­dem­ic began in March 2020, juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems were quick to de-den­si­fy their deten­tion facil­i­ties due to pub­lic health con­cerns. Casey’s sur­vey results reflect this real­i­ty, with release rates for youth of all races and eth­nic­i­ties spiking.

Since then, how­ev­er, releas­es have slowed, leav­ing many young peo­ple con­fined and cut off from their families. 

Staff are more like­ly than youth to get COVID-19

The preva­lence of COVID-19 among youth and staff in juve­nile deten­tion cen­ters has exceed­ed rates report­ed in the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. Active cas­es among youth in deten­tion peaked in Decem­ber 2020, sur­vey results indi­cate. Through­out the pan­dem­ic, cas­es among staff have con­sis­tent­ly out­paced cas­es among youth by more than two to one.

COVID-19 Cases in Youth Detention Facilities

About the survey

The sur­vey, con­duct­ed each month since the pan­dem­ic began in March 2020, aims to assess the effects of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic on juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems around the coun­try. The Foun­da­tion cap­tured trends from 129 juris­dic­tions in 33 states, rep­re­sent­ing 28% of the nation’s youth pop­u­la­tion (ages 1017). For data dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by race and eth­nic­i­ty, the analy­sis includes 124 juris­dic­tions across 32 states, rep­re­sent­ing 27% of the U.S. youth.

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

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