Youth Incarceration Sees Dramatic Drop in the United States

Posted February 27, 2013
Newsrelease reducingyouthincarceration 2013

America’s rate of lock­ing up young peo­ple has dropped by more than 40% over a 15-year peri­od, with no decrease in pub­lic safe­ty, accord­ing to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

A new KIDS COUNT data snap­shot, Reduc­ing Youth Incar­cer­a­tion in the Unit­ed States,” reports that the num­ber of young peo­ple in cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties on a sin­gle day fell to 70,792 in 2010, from a high of 107,637 in 1995. This down­ward trend, doc­u­ment­ed in data from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau’s Cen­sus of Juve­niles in Res­i­den­tial Place­ment, has accel­er­at­ed in recent years.

Despite the sharp decline, the Unit­ed States still leads the indus­tri­al­ized world in lock­ing up its young peo­ple. And the major­i­ty of this country’s incar­cer­at­ed youth are held for non­vi­o­lent offens­es — such as tru­an­cy, low-lev­el prop­er­ty offens­es and tech­ni­cal pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions — that are not clear pub­lic-safe­ty threats.

Lock­ing up young peo­ple has life­long con­se­quences, as incar­cer­at­ed youth expe­ri­ence low­er edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment, more unem­ploy­ment, high­er alco­hol and sub­stance abuse rates and greater chances of run-ins with the law as adults,” said Bart Lubow, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. Our decreas­ing reliance on incar­cer­a­tion presents an excep­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty to respond to juve­nile delin­quen­cy in a more cost-effec­tive and humane way — and to give these youth a real chance to turn them­selves around.”

The snap­shot, which fol­lows our 2011 report No Place for Kids: The Case for Reduc­ing Juve­nile Incar­cer­a­tion, indi­cates most states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia mir­rored the nation­al decline, accord­ing to data from the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice’s Office of Juve­nile Jus­tice and Delin­quen­cy Pre­ven­tion. Sev­er­al even halved their youth con­fine­ment rates. Still, the rates vary dra­mat­i­cal­ly by state: In 2010, a young per­son in South Dako­ta, which had the high­est rate, was 11 times more like­ly to be locked up than one in Ver­mont, which had the lowest.

Although the nation’s five largest racial groups also saw decreas­ing rates of con­fine­ment, the data show much high­er rates among youth of col­or. African Amer­i­cans are near­ly five times more like­ly to be locked up than their white coun­ter­parts, and Lati­nos and Amer­i­can Indi­ans are two to three times more likely.

The new snap­shot sug­gests sev­er­al ways to reduce reliance on incar­cer­a­tion and to improve the odds for young peo­ple involved in the jus­tice sys­tem. These include restrict­ing incar­cer­a­tion to youth pos­ing a clear risk to pub­lic safe­ty; invest­ing in alter­na­tives that effec­tive­ly super­vise, sanc­tion and treat youth in their homes and com­mu­ni­ties; and encour­ag­ing states — which often have poli­cies that pro­vide unin­tend­ed finan­cial incen­tives for cities and coun­ties to use incar­cer­a­tion — to seek com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to lock­ing up kids.

Reduc­ing Youth Incar­cer­a­tion in the Unit­ed States” fea­tures the lat­est data for states, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and the nation, as does the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter, home to com­pre­hen­sive nation­al, state and local sta­tis­tics on child well-being. The Data Cen­ter allows users to cre­ate rank­ings, maps and graphs for use in pub­li­ca­tions and on web­sites, and to view real-time infor­ma­tion on mobile devices.

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