New Report Calls Out Gross Racial Disparities in Juvenile Justice System

By Shani Saxon Dec 20, 2019

Non-profit group The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) on Thursday (December 19) released a report exposing failures in the juvenile justice system that mirror ones found in the adult system.

The study, “Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie 2019,” indicates that although the number of youths detained in juvenile detention centers has decreased by 60 precent since 2000, data shows that “Black and American Indian youth are overrepresented in juvenile facilities, while white youth are underrepresented.” According to the report, racial disparities are most pronounced among Black boys and Black girls. It also states that “American Indian girls make up a small part of the confined population, [but] they are extremely overrepresented relative to their share of the total youth population.”

In a summary of the report emailed to Colorlines, key findings point to major failures in the juvenile justice system that mirror issues that are also harming the adult criminal justice system. According to the summary, some of those similarities include:

• Unnecessary pretrial detention. On any given day, 9,500 youth – or 1 in 5 youth in confinement – are locked up before trial.

• Incarceration for the most minor offenses. 19% of youth in juvenile facilities are locked up for “technical violations” of probation or parole, or for status offenses (behaviors for which an adult would not be prosecuted).

• Glaring racial disparities. While only 14% of children under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black.

“Closing youth prisons and redirecting the resources and funding to empower and support the most impacted communities is essential to creating restorative justice,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of Youth First, in an emailed statement. “Our current system is fundamentally racist and overwhelmingly targets Black and Brown youth. Americans largely support youth justice reform and it’s time to act on what we know works. In just two decades, states have already slashed the number of youth confined by 60%. The Prison Policy Initiative’s recommendations will help get us closer to a world free of youth incarceration.”

PPI’s recommendations for juvenile justice reform include the following:

Beyond releasing and resentencing youth, states should remove all youth from adult jails and prisons, close large juvenile facilities, and invest in non-residential community-based programs. Legislators should continue to update laws to reflect our current understanding of brain development and criminal behavior over the life course, such as raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and ending the prosecution of youth as adults.

Read the full report here.