Racial Disparities in Youth Incarceration Persist
Posted by The Sentencing Project on March 2, 2021
In ten years, the United States has cut youth incarceration in half. While the reduction is impressive, youth involvement in the juvenile justice system continues to impact youth of color disproportionately.
In every state, Black youth are more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers, about five times as likely nationwide. American Indian youth are three times as likely to be incarcerated as their white peers. For Latinx youth disparities are smaller but still prevalent; Latinx youth are 42 percent more likely than their white peers to be incarcerated.
Nationally, disparities are essentially unchanged from 10 years’ prior for Black and American Indian youth, but represent a 21 percent decrease in incarceration disparities for Latinx youth. In state rankings, New Jersey warrants special mention due to its number one and number three status for highest Black-white and Latinx-white disparities in youth incarceration, respectively.
These disparities are not only caused by differences in offending but also by harsher enforcement and punishment of youth of color. White youth are less likely to be arrested than other teenagers, which is partly attributable to unequal policing and partly to differential involvement in crime.
After arrest, youth of color are more likely to be detained pre-adjudication and committed post adjudication. They are also less likely to be diverted from the system. These patterns hold across a range of offenses.
Advancement of racial justice priorities with youth decarceration efforts has proven elusive. More steps must be taken to invest in youth and communities in order to prevent crime and to protect youth from overly punitive system responses to misbehavior.
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