A major reduction has taken place in the number of teenagers committed to juvenile facilities in this century. At a time of increasing calls to cut the number of incarcerated adults by 50 percent over 10 years, the juvenile justice system has already attained this goal. Moreover, the decline has taken place without harming public safety.
Between 2001 and 2013, the number of juveniles committed to juvenile facilities after an adjudication of delinquency (or, as was the case for 413 juveniles, conviction in criminal court) fell from 76,262 to 35,659.1)The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention compiles data on juveniles in residential facilities using a one-day count, generally taken in late October. The nationwide count is available annually whereas some components of that overall count, including state-by-state counts, are only available on a biannual basis. Citation for most figures and tables in this paper: Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., and Puzzanchera, C. (2015) “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Overall placements, which also include those juveniles held pre-adjudication, peaked in the year 2000 and have since fallen by 51 percent.
This represents a 54 percent decline since a 1999 peak and a 53 percent decline since 2001. As of 2012, these reductions led to a one-third reduction in the number of juvenile facilities since 2002.
Twenty-seven states, spread through every region, have attained a cut of 50 percent or more of their committed youth between 2001 and 2013, while only one state – North Dakota – and the District of Columbia have seen any increases at all. Eight states achieved reduction of at least two-thirds: Mississippi, Massachusetts, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois.
Figure 1. Juvenile Facilities and Placements, 1997-2013
Table 1. Juvenile Commitment Changes by State, 2001-2013
|District of Columbia||111||123||11%|
Table 2. Juvenile Commitment Rates By State, 2013
|State of Offense||Committed Youth (per 100,000)|
|District of Columbia||302|
Figure 2. Youth Commitment Changes by State, 2001-2013
While the factors contributing to these reductions vary by state, in general the decline is a function of both a drop in juvenile offending and a mix of policy and practice initiatives. Juvenile arrest rates fell 39 percent from 2000 to 2012 with roughly equivalent drops across major categories of offenses.
Many states have advanced reforms to decrease their committed populations. In Mississippi, a set of state and federal investigations that revealed deplorable conditions in state facilities prompted a reduction in the number of teenagers housed in the facilities and thus led to a sharp curtailment in the use of commitments for status offenses and technical violations. Following passage of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2003, Louisiana currently uses a placement review process to ensure that teenagers are held in the least restrictive placement option.
Connecticut and Massachusetts raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year olds and still saw a two-thirds drop in the number of committed juveniles. Advocates in Connecticut are now focused on closing the remaining large facilities in the state, citing both the treatment of the teenagers housed there and the lower effectiveness of secure placement on outcomes.
Despite the promising overall trend and some positive exceptions, there is little evidence that most states are reducing the proportion of commitments for less serious offenders and reserving commitment only for their serious offenders. In 2001, 24 percent of all committed juveniles had been adjudicated on a violent offense; by 2013, that proportion had barely changed and is now 26 percent. Juvenile placement ought to be reserved for those who pose the greatest risk to public safety – but roughly three out of four committed teenagers are held for simple assault, property offenses, drug offenses, public order offenses, status offenses and technical violations.
Figure 3. Youth Commitment Rate per 100,000 by State, 2013
Racial and ethnic disparities
African American juveniles are nearly two-and-a-half times as likely to be arrested despite few differences in delinquent behaviors or status offenses. Researchers have found few group differences between youth of color and white youth regarding the most common categories of youth arrests.2)Lauritsen, J. L. (2005). Racial and ethnic difference in juvenile offending. In Hawkins, D. F. & Kempf-Leonard, K. (Eds.), Our children, their children: Confronting racial and ethnic differences in American juvenile justice (pp. 83- 104). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Still, differences exist regarding violent crimes, comprising five percent of juvenile arrests, which are more prevalent among African American and Latino youth. Juveniles adjudicated for violent offenses comprise one in four commitments. Racial and ethnic disparities cannot be explained solely by differences in offending patterns; the remaining three-quarters of commitments are offenses where there are few differences in behaviors.
Disparities grow with each step in the juvenile justice system. Even as the total numbers of juvenile arrests and detentions have decreased, racial and ethnic commitment disparities between youth of color and white youth remain profound.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act requires states to address the disproportionate number of youth of color who come into contact with the juvenile justice system (JJDPA (Sec. 223(a)(22))). In 2015, Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) introduced legislation to reauthorize the JJDPA for the first time since 2002. The Grassley-Whitehouse bill would require states to identify and reduce these disparities, providing concrete guidance on how to do so: establishing or designating local stakeholder groups to advise on the best ways to reduce disparities; identifying key decision points where disparities emerge; and implementing a work plan that includes measurable objectives to reduce disparities. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2015.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) compiles commitment rates by race; data show that almost every state (except Vermont) has significant juvenile commitment disparities. African American youth are 4.3 times as likely as white youth to be committed. Latino youth are 1.6 times as likely, and Native youth are 3.7 times as likely to be committed. Such disparities are highest in some of the states with the lowest overall placement rates. For example, Connecticut and New Jersey maintain rates of confinement that are less than half the national average, but both states confine African American youth at 24 times the rate of white youth.
Table 3. Black/White Commitment Rates per 100,000 Juveniles, 2011
|District of Columbia||302||96||336||3.5|
One in Three Juvenile Facilities Have Closed Since 2002
There were 970 fewer juvenile facilities in 2012 than in 2002, a 33 percent decline.3)Data on juvenile facilities is available via biannual reports on residential facilities, the most recent of which is Hockenberry, S., Sickmund, M., & Sladky, A. (2015). Juvenile Residential Facility Census, 2012: Selected Findings. While facilities of all sizes have closed, a greater percentage of the largest facilities did. The number of facilities holding fewer than 100 juveniles fell from 2,696 to 1,872 (a 31 percent decrease); the number of facilities holding 101 to 200 juveniles fell from 171 to 83 (a 51 percent decrease); and the number of facilities holding more than 200 juveniles fell from 88 to 30 (a 66 percent decrease). The largest facilities are expensive to maintain, but they also provide less tailored services than small facilities, increasing the chances of reoffending.
The dual trends of closing large facilities and declining numbers of juveniles in placement have changed the typical juvenile placement. In 1997, 36,597 juveniles (35 percent of all juveniles in placement) were held in facilities that housed more than 200 people. By 2013, 7,195 juveniles (13 percent) were held in these large facilities.
Despite impressive decreases in youth held in juvenile facilities, disturbing racial disparities still persist nationally, as well as the unnecessary detention of low-level and nonviolent offenders.
Reductions in juvenile offending combined with common-sense policy changes have led to large reductions in the number and percentages of teenagers in large state facilities and generally in confinement. These reduced expenditures on facilities ought to lead to real justice reinvestment in programs that can prevent offending, such as drug and alcohol counseling and mentorship programs. For teenagers with mental health concerns, a comprehensive approach, such as multisystemic therapy which addresses the many factors that can impact a teenager’s offending, is an effective intervention that supports teenagers and their families.
Confinement should be used sparingly and briefly, and only as a last resort. For serious offenders, a successful program should be intensive and address teenaged aggression, focusing on rehabilitation to keep them in confinement only as long as they are a threat to public safety.
Most importantly, states should not over-rely on confinement as the way to address teenaged misbehaviors but instead invest in alternatives, utilizing confinement in limited circumstances and for short periods. Research has consistently shown that juvenile facilities are not merely expensive and counterproductive to reducing offending behavior, but outright dangerous for teenagers. Despite reductions in juvenile commitments, there is much more to be done.
Figure 4. Number of Juvenile Offenders by Size of Facility, 1997-2013
Figure 5. Percent of Juvenile Offenders by Size of Facility, 1997-2013
|↑1||The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention compiles data on juveniles in residential facilities using a one-day count, generally taken in late October. The nationwide count is available annually whereas some components of that overall count, including state-by-state counts, are only available on a biannual basis. Citation for most figures and tables in this paper: Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., and Puzzanchera, C. (2015) “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.”|
|↑2||Lauritsen, J. L. (2005). Racial and ethnic difference in juvenile offending. In Hawkins, D. F. & Kempf-Leonard, K. (Eds.), Our children, their children: Confronting racial and ethnic differences in American juvenile justice (pp. 83- 104). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.|
|↑3||Data on juvenile facilities is available via biannual reports on residential facilities, the most recent of which is Hockenberry, S., Sickmund, M., & Sladky, A. (2015). Juvenile Residential Facility Census, 2012: Selected Findings.|