Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention

By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

January 2, 2001


This report—the 8th installment in a series devoted to revolutionizing detention programs and practices in America—explores racial disparities in confinement and outlines how we can create a fairer juvenile justice system for today’s youth of color. It recaps the journeys of 4 distinct sites from across the country that committed to reducing racial disparities in juvenile detention as part of Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). Readers will learn relevant statistics and background information for all 4 locations as well as each jurisdiction’s unique reform strategies, successes and challenges. 

Table of Contents

Key Takeaway

Key Takeaways

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s quest to reduce racial disparities in detention resulted in 10 key lessons learned. These teaching points range from focused practical tips (make decisions using data; keep the police in the picture) to larger-scale suggestions for staying on track (don’t get caught in abstract discussions—or tackle areas you cannot change).

Lesson no. 10 serves as a simple beacon of hope. It reminds us that some JDAI sites have already pulled off the near impossible; they have leveled the playing field for children of color and created a fairer juvenile justice system for all involved.

Findings & Stats

Aecf Pathways8reducingracialdisparities Multnomah


Multnomah County, Oregon, is the model to follow for jurisdictions seeking to remedy the disproportionate dominance of youth of color in detention.

Aecf Pathways8reducingracialdisparities Cook Co


Cook County, Illinois, officials enacted reform strategies that helped reduce the entire detention population by 31% (more than 200 youths) in just 4 years.

Aecf Pathways8reducingracialdisparities Santa Cruz


In Santa Cruz, California, the probation department successfully reduced both the number of Hispanic youth in detention and the rates at which they were detained by creating a simple 23-goal checklist to guide their actions.

Statements & Quotations