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New Data: Population at Youth Facilities Cut in Half Since 1999

May 08, 2015
New data show that youth detention is at a historic low, but racial disparities persist.
50% Drop in Youth in Residential Placement, 1999-2013
Source: Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2013). Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.

The United States experienced a 12% decline in the number of youth in residential placement between 2011 and 2013, according to new data released from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). As of 2013, there were 54,148 youth in detention, continuing a trend of depopulating youth facilities that has been apparent since 1999. Since 1999, there has been a 50% drop in youth detention and a 54% decline in youth sentenced to secure facilities, including a 14% decline in committed youth between 2011 and 2013. These figures show that states are taking advantage of declining youth crime rates to reduce their institutional populations.

Placement of youth in residential facilities shows declines across nearly all offenses. However, the estimates report a troubling rise in the number of status offenders who are detained (up nearly 13% since 2011, including a 25% rise for boys adjudicated on status offenses). The rise is also associated with an increase in lengthy detention stays: more than two-thirds of status offenders have been confined for at least 30 days.

Despite the overall decline in the juvenile population, racial disparities persist. African American youth continue to comprise 40% of detained youth. The decades-long trend of disproportionate detention for youth of color remains troubling and underscores the need to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) have introduced SB 1169 to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The Grassley-Whitehouse bill would strengthen a core requirement of the JJDPA by requiring states to identify and reduce racial and ethnic disparities at various points of contact with the juvenile justice system. The bill would also close a loophole that allows judges to continue to detain status offenders through a valid court order exception to this mandate.

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