Rates of felony youth arrests have been declining dramatically across California. According to a recent report by Kids Data, juvenile felony arrest rates have decreased by 73 percent between 1998 and 2015, from 19.6 arrests per 1,000 youth to 5.3.
Despite these improvements, the felony arrest rates for African American youth continue to be substantially higher than those of their peers of other races.
Counties like San Francisco have seen the number of African American youth arrests cut in half, but in comparison to other ethnic groups, these numbers are still very high. In 2015, African American youth were eight times more likely than their white peers to be charged with felony arrest, which typically involves injury or substantial property loss. Twenty-four out of every 1,000 African American youth experienced felony arrest, a disproportionately large number in comparison to only five per 1,000 Hispanic/Latino youth and three per 1,000 white youth.
The Kids Data analysis also highlights that entering the juvenile justice system can lead to severe long-term consequences. Youth who have been previously detained experience higher rates of attempted suicide, substance abuse, dropping out of school and early pregnancy. And, as adults, formerly detained youth have a harder time maintaining a steady job and may revert back to criminal activity later in life.
In a national survey conducted by The Sentencing Project in 2012, most youth offenders were found to have endured family poverty, separation from their parents, and violence at home and in their communities.
Also, according to the Kids Data report, policy reforms should consider promoting rehabilitative programs, accounting for an individual’s personal circumstances, and reducing the likelihood of re-offending. This would include initially assessing offenders’ mental health needs and then providing appropriate resources such as mentorship programs, group counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy services and academic assistance.
The report also reveals that, as of today, there is no minimum age for California’s juvenile court. With Senate Bill 439, which will be considered by the legislature next year, youth would have to be at least 12 years old in order to enter the state’s juvenile justice system.