Youth detention admissions fell by half in two months, survey finds

Youth detention admissions fell by half in two months, survey finds

The average number of young people admitted to detention in thirty-three states fell nearly 52 percent in March and April, a survey of juvenile justice agencies funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds. 

According to a second survey of jurisdictions participating in the foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) since the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency, admissions to local secure detention centers of youths between the ages of 10 and 17 fell from 207 per day in February to 148 in March to 100 in April. The 51.6 percent drop over two months is equivalent to a decline that, when it last occurred, took thirteen years. 

Conducted in partnership with the Pretrial Justice Institute and Empact Solutions, the survey found that the youth detention population fell 32 percent between March 1 and May 1, from 4,515 to 3,081. At the same time, the share of jurisdictions reporting an increase in the rate at which they released young people rose from 56 percent in February to 61 percent in March but fell to 53 percent in April. In addition, the survey found that the juvenile detention population fell slightly more for youth of color, with the number of African-American and Latinx youth held in juvenile detention down by 30 percent and 29 percent over two months, compared with a decline of 26 percent for white youth. However, the number of African-American youth in detention remained more than double that of white youth — 1,847 vs. 718 as of March 1 and 1,287 vs. 533 as of May 1. 

The survey also found that 65 percent of responding jurisdictions had access to information about COVID-19 cases among youth and/or staff in detention facilities, and that 85 percent of those jurisdictions reported no confirmed or suspected cases. In the 15 percent of jurisdictions with cases, sixty-five youth and sixty staff members were confirmed as or suspected of having COVID, while another nineteen youth and twenty staff members had recovered. 

"It is understandable and laudable that jurisdictions have focused so much of their energy on keeping youth out of detention," said Nate Balis, director of the foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. "The next frontiers are getting youth out of detention more quickly and understanding and tackling the obstacles standing in the way."