More than 70 million people in the United States are under the age of 18 and on any given day, about 48,000 juveniles are held in youth correctional facilities across the country, the Prison Policy Initiative’s Feb. 27 report states.
While the number of minors confined in the U.S. could fill a small town, the statistics actually reflect an improvement in reducing confinement rates. A 2013 report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that there were about 71,000 minors in correctional facilities in 2010, a significant drop from 108,000 in 1995.
The Prison Policy Institute also found that racial disparities in the adult prison system are pronounced in the juvenile incarceration system as well.
In 2015, black prisoners made up about 35.4 percent of the adult male prison population, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, while black boys make up 43 percent of the confined male juvenile population. Less than 14 percent of minors in the U.S. are black.
Almost one in five juveniles in detention facilities are there for minor offenses or status violations, such as failing to meet with their probation officer, truancy or violating curfew, according to the Prison Policy Initiative report.
Meanwhile, about 16,000 – almost one in three – are being held without serving a sentence. Over 9,000 of those juveniles are being held pre-trial, while about 6,500 await sentencing.
“Incarceration has serious, harmful effects on a person’s mental and physical health, their economic and social prospects, their relationships, and on the people around them,” Sawyer wrote in the report. “This is true for adults, of course, but the experience of being removed from their homes and locked up is even more damaging for youth, who are in a critical stage of development and are more vulnerable to abuse.”
The report includes a series of recommendations to reduce juvenile incarceration, including raising the age in which juvenile courts have jurisdiction, removing youths from adult prisons, and prioritizing non-residential, community-based programs rather than confinement.
“Several states have raised their age to the 18th birthday,” she said. “Raising the age helps, as does rolling back their provisions for transferring juveniles to criminal court.”
“For both detention and commitment placements, a common obstacle is lack of alternatives. If the only choice is residential placement or nothing, decision makers will err on the side of caution and use residential placement, but if there are more options, they will be used,” she said. “Communities need to work with providers to expand non-residential options. This is particularly important for more rural areas which may not have adequate services to begin with.”
From Courthouse News Service