To understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth detention populations, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is surveying juvenile justice agencies across the country every month and reporting on youth detention trends. Started in April 2020, this survey is unique because it captures data in close to real time from a large group of jurisdictions that span all regions of the United States and range from large urban counties to small rural courts. In a typical month, the Foundation receives data from more than 150 jurisdictions in more than 30 states, containing more than 30% of the nation’s youth population (ages 10 to 17).
The survey is conducted with assistance from Empact Solutions.
Youth Detention Survey Results
The Latest Data Release
Previous Survey Results
- The Number of Youth in Secure Detention Returns to Pre-Pandemic Levels (data through June 1, 2022)
- Youth Detention Use Reaches Highest Level in 19 Months (data through Oct 1, 2021)
- As Pandemic Eases, Youth Detention Population Creeps Up (data through March 1, 2021)
- Survey: A Pandemic High for the Number of Black Youth in Juvenile Detention (data through February 1, 2021)
- Juvenile Justice Is Smaller but More Unequal, After First Year of COVID-19 (data through January 1, 2021)
- Survey: More Youth in Secure Detention Despite Rise of COVID-19 (data through December 1, 2020)
- Youth Detention Admissions Increase After Dramatic Decrease Early in Pandemic (data through September 1, 2020)
- Growing Numbers of Latino and Native Youth in Juvenile Detention Buck Trend (data through August 1, 2020)
- Youth Detention Admissions Remain Low, But Releases Stall Despite COVID-19 (data through June 1, 2020)
- Survey: 52% Drop in Admissions to Youth Detention in Two Months Matches Reduction Over 13 Years (data through May 1, 2020)
- At Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Dramatic and Rapid Reductions in Youth Detention (data through April 1, 2020), which included an accompanying news release, Survey: Amid Pandemic, Youth Detention Population Fell 24% in One Month, Matching a Recent Seven-Year Period
What Is Juvenile Detention?
Detention centers are different than youth prisons or other residential placements where young people could be sentenced after being adjudicated delinquent. Rather, juvenile detention is a crucial early phase in the juvenile justice process. It is 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 195,000 young people spend time in detention facilities nationwide, despite the negative effects of detention on young people — including likely deeper system involvement, separation from their families, health risks and a derailed education — and persistent racial disparities in who is detained.
About the Survey
Casey’s monthly survey provides a unique glimpse at the two levers that control the size of the detained population: how many young people are admitted and how quickly they are released. The survey gathers the following information:
- What was the total population of youth in secure detention on the first day of the month, in each of the past months starting in January 2020? This information provides the size of the population both immediately before and after the pandemic’s spread in March 2020. Two factors contribute to population gains: higher admissions and longer lengths of stay of youth already in detention.
- How many young people were admitted to secure detention each month since January 2020? Casey’s analyses of the survey track admissions using a rate of admissions per day, to adjust for differences in the number of days in each month. This data point provides a direct measure of the rate at which young people were coming into detention, and it enables calculation of the rate at which they were leaving. The number of young people in detention at the start of the month, plus the number admitted during the month, minus the number in detention at the start of the next month, equals the number of youth who were released during the month.
- What’s the release rate? The pace of releases is measured using a metric called the release rate, which is the number of young people released from detention during a month divided by the number of young people who spent time in detention during that month. A higher release rate means that young people are getting out of detention faster. A faster release rate reflects a) faster resolution of cases by juvenile courts; b) greater use of alternative to detention options (ATDs) to keep young people safe and on track in their home and community until the courts resolve their case; or c) a combination of these factors.
- How can this information be disaggregated by race and ethnicity? Recognizing that sites capture racial and ethnic data in different ways, these data help determine the best way to collect this information across sites and in as much detail as possible.
- How many detention centers had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 at the time of the survey among youth or staff? This enables analysis of how the pandemic is expanding from month to month.
There is no current national census against which this total can be compared to give a sense of how large a sample this survey reflects. But the most recent national census of youth in detention centers by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, dated October 2019, found that there were 14,344 detained youth in residential placement at that time.
This is not a national estimate. This is a snapshot of a particular subset of jurisdictions — specifically communities involved in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative® (JDAI). Begun nearly three decades ago as a pilot project to reduce reliance on detention, JDAI® reaches nearly one-third of the total U.S. youth population and is active in more than 300 cities and counties in 40 states and the District of Columbia.
Juvenile Justice Related Resources