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Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration

July 15, 2021
Josh Rovner
Despite long-term declines in youth incarceration, the disparity at which black and white youth are held in juvenile facilities has grown. Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers.    

Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers, according to nationwide data collected in October 2019 and recently released. In 2015, Black youth’s incarceration rate was 5.0 times as high as their white peers, an all-time peak. That ratio fell to 4.4, a 13% decline.1)Most data in this report are derived from Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Puzzanchera, C. and Kang, W. (2021). Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement. National Center for Juvenile Justice.

Juvenile facilities, including 1,510 detention centers, residential treatment centers, group homes, and youth prisons2)Puzzanchera, C., Hockenberry, S., Sladky, T.J., and Kang, W. (2020). Juvenile Residential Facility Census Databook. National Center for Juvenile Justice. held 36,479 youths as of October 2019. (These data do not include the 653 people under 18 in prisons at year-end 20193)Carson, E.A. (2020). Prisoners in 2019. Bureau of Justice Statistics. NCJ 25115. or the estimated 2,900 people under 18 in jails at midyear 2019.4)Zeng, Z. and Minton, T. (2021). Jail Inmates in 2019. Bureau of Justice Statistics. NCJ 255608.

Forty-one percent of youths in placement are Black, even though Black Americans comprise only 15% of all youth across the United States.5)Puzzanchera, C., Sladky, A. and Kang, W. (2020). Easy Access to Juvenile Populations: 1990-2019. National Center for Juvenile Justice. Black youth are more likely to be in custody than white youth in every state but one: Hawaii. Between 2015 and 2019, juvenile placements fell by 24%. During these years, Black youth placements declined faster than white youth placements (54% vs. 36%), resulting in a smaller but still considerable disparity.

Nationally, the youth placement rate was 114 per 100,000. The Black youth placement rate was 315 per 100,000, compared to the white youth placement rate of 72 per 100,000.

Racial disparities grew by more than 10% in 11 states and decreased by at least 10% in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

  • In New Jersey, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, and Connecticut, African American youth are at least 10 times more likely to be held in placement as are white youth.
  • South Carolina, Tennessee, and Nebraska have seen their racial disparity grow by at least one-third.
  • Indiana, New Jersey, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Nevada decreased their racial disparity by at least one-third.
Black/White Youth Placement Rates per 100,000; 2019
State Black Rate White Rate B/W Disparity
Alabama 294 106 2.8
Arizona 240 62 3.9
Arkansas 307 96 3.2
California 433 48 9.0
Colorado 557 76 7.3
Connecticut 74 7 10.6
Delaware 390 44 8.9
District of Columbia 388 35 11.1
Florida 295 90 3.3
Georgia 233 40 5.8
Illinois 218 32 6.8
Indiana 298 138 2.2
Iowa 721 83 8.7
Kansas 405 81 5.0
Kentucky 393 89 4.4
Louisiana 294 49 6.0
Maryland 182 29 6.3
Massachusetts 133 19 7.0
Michigan 458 85 5.4
Minnesota 621 73 8.5
Mississippi 105 27 3.9
Missouri 288 80 3.6
Nebraska 641 69 9.3
Nevada 488 140 3.5
New Jersey 245 14 17.5
New York 168 30 5.6
North Carolina 250 37 6.8
Ohio 433 84 5.2
Oklahoma 281 53 5.3
Oregon 547 146 3.7
Pennsylvania 413 73 5.7
South Carolina 315 63 5.0
Tennessee 124 27 4.6
Texas 345 74 4.7
Virginia 273 57 4.8
Washington 310 60 5.2
Wisconsin 485 43 11.3
U.S. Total 315 72 4.4
The table above and the figure below are limited to the 36 states and the District of Columbia with at least 8,000 Black residents between 10- and 17-years old.
Numbers in the last column reveal the extent to which Black youth are more likely to be incarcerated than white youth. For example, in Alabama, Black youth are 2.8 times more likely to be held in a juvenile facility than their white peers.
Change in Black/White Placement Disparity; 2015 vs. 20196)The District of Columbia’s racial disparity was undefined in 2015 because there were no incarcerated white youth on the date of the one-day count.

Positive numbers reveal an increase in the racial disparity between 2015 and 2019, and negative numbers reveal a decreased racial disparity.



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