Racial Disparity in Juvenile Facilities Increased as Overall Incarceration Plummeted, Report Says

Racial disparity in juvenile facilities may have widened as the overall number of youths declined in recent years, according to a report released today by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

“While the total number of incarcerated youth has declined in many states, higher proportions of youth of color are in out-of-home placements and secure facilities,” said the report, “Stakeholder Views on the Movement to Reduce Youth Incarceration.”

The report was prompted by a U.S. Justice Department data showing that the rate of youth in confinement dropped 41 percent between 2001 and 2011. NCCD conducted a five-county analysis to gauge the real impact of the decline, which in many states included a shift of responsibility for many juvenile offenders from states to county systems.

“Little detailed information has been published about the dispositions that youth continue to receive in reformed states,” the report said.

A 1,250-person sample was created for the years 2002 and 2012, using 250 juveniles from each of the five counties: Summit County, Ohio; Alameda County, Calif.; Dallas County, Texas; Jefferson County, Ala.; and Peoria County, Ill.

The analysis revealed that of the juvenile dispositions made to the sample, the number that include removal of a juvenile from the home had gone from 29 percent in 2002 to 44 percent in 2012. And minority youth accounted for nearly the entire shift.

In 2002, 23 percent of all juvenile dispositions were placements of minority youth in either non-secure or secure facilities. That proportion increased to 37 percent in 2012, while the percentage of minority youth sent to probation remained nearly constant (45 percent in 2002, down to 44 percent).

In the same time frame, the proportion of placement dispositions for white youth remained almost unchanged, increasing from six percent to seven percent. The percent of dispositions of probation for white juveniles did, however, decreased from 24 percent to 11 percent.

“These findings suggest that the strategies employed by reformers are moving White youth out of placement and probation while moving youth of color into placement and secure facilities in much larger numbers.

The report lists a number of recommendations for addressing the widening disparities, based on interviews with juvenile justice stakeholders at listening sessions conducted in five states. NCCD also released a supplemental report on that feedback today; click here to read.

Chief among the recommendations was greater involvement of community-based organizations in juvenile justice services, and an improvement in how those programs are funded and measured for impact.

“Even if you succeed in getting the money into…community-based organizations, there’s still that question of how you design funding processes to make sure that it includes homegrown organizations,” said Katy Weinstein Miller, who oversees alternate programs and initiatives for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, in the supplemental report. “We have this struggle in San Francisco, where it often winds up being the best grant writers, not necessarily the most qualified organizations, that receive the biggest grants.”

“Finally someone in city government pointing to what everyone has ignored,” said Daniel Macallair, CEO of San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, asked by The Chronicle for a reaction to the comment. “We are seeing the concentration of resources into a shrinking number of large corporate nonprofits right here,  just like the rest of the country.”

Among the other recommendations in the NCCD report:

  • Federal funding: Expanding (or at least restoring) funds to states under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, while adding an incentive-based program for evidence-based strategies proposed by President Obama.
  • Reinvestment: Use policy and legislation to direct savings from lower overall use of juvenile facilities into other options.
  • Allocate based on ZIP Codes: Direct funding in a hyper-local manner to maximize the amount going to seriously challenged neighborhoods.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.


  1. I work daily with youth in a state(WA) that prides itself on providing evidenced based service to juveniles. Despite a reputation of providing state of art evidenced based service the percentage of youth of color continues to rise. I support combating this issue “BY any means neccessary”

  2. Dear Friends,
    My name is Catherine Garrone and I am the involved with the Save the Kids (STK) organization, a grass-roots fully-volunteer organization that is grounded in the values of activism and transformative justice, which advocates for alternatives to, and the end of, incarceration of all youth. I am also the Co-Director of the Wisdom Behind The Walls project of STK which seeks to connect adult prisoners to at-youth youth via writings, with the eventual goal of publishing a text to be distributed to youth.
    I have been researching organizations in the Northeastern US to connect with others that may be interested in participating in our National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.
    Founded in 2013, the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth was developed out of long conversations and many forums with many youth advocacy organizations and government agencies. The week of May 19 was chosen because for two reasons, first because it close to the time when students are getting out of school for the summer, which is the time when there is the most amount of youth violence and youth incarceration. The second reason, is because it is the birthday of Malcolm X, a U.S. civil rights and Black liberation leader. Malcolm X once told his favorite teacher that he had a dream to be a lawyer, his teacher replied that this is “no realistic goal for a n-word,” this was a great cause of Malcolm X leaving school and entering the street life of selling drugs, gambling, and pimping. His childhood life is a perfect example of the school to prison pipeline, which Save the Kids works to dismantle. Save the Kids holds to Malcolm X’s quote that, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Please join thousands of others in organizing around this the National Week of of Action Against Incarcerating Youth. Another world is possible, and it begins with community based programs. Incarceration is not the solution, but the problem. Once youth are involved in the system, it is hard for them to get out of it. Please support youth and our future and demand that no more youth are locked up no matter the crime they have served. Punishment and imprisoning youth are not the answers.

    We are looking for groups around the world to organize events. The events can take any forum the organization wishes such as: candlelight vigil, spoken-word mic night, protest, rally, teach-in, workshop, lecture, panel, conference, dinner, lunch, potluck, sit-in, parade, or pamphletting. We ask that interested groups plan an event (or a few events!) and pass on the information/details of your planned event to us for publication and promotion.
    We look forward to hearing back from you, and hope that you are interested in participating. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
    Best Wishes,
    Catherine Garrone
    Save The Kids, National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth New England Coordinator & Co-Editor of Wisdom Behind The Walls

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