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Fewer Young People in Detention During Pandemic

The decrease in youth detention rates over the last month has been as dramatic as the reduction rate from 2010 to 2017 at detention centers in 30 states. (pixelcarpenter/Adobe Stock)
The decrease in youth detention rates over the last month has been as dramatic as the reduction rate from 2010 to 2017 at detention centers in 30 states. (pixelcarpenter/Adobe Stock)
April 27, 2020

SEATTLE -- The number of young people in detention centers has decreased dramatically since the coronavirus outbreak began, according to a new survey.

Data from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, collected from centers in 30 states, including Washington, finds populations decreased by nearly one-quarter in March. That's about the same decline that occurred in these areas from 2010 to 2017.

Chen-Chen Jiang, a staff attorney with TeamChild in Seattle, says it shows a positive trend -- that locking young people up isn't the best way to make progress.

"We think that this work shows that detention can be reduced," she states. "We can allow youth to be better supported and served in the community and it actually will not increase crime or threaten the safety of our communities. It will actually do just the opposite."

The researchers note the data is significant, but only a snapshot of juvenile justice systems nationwide.

TeamChild says it's following the Washington figures and in some counties, youth detention numbers have pretty much stayed the same.

Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group for The Annie E. Casey Foundation, says many young people are held in secure detention because they've broken rules of probation, committed a minor offense in the community or been arrested at school.

"All of these things end up being the reasons that systems sometimes use secure detention, even though the point should be one that's focused on community safety," he states.

Annie Lee, executive director of TeamChild, says the COVID-19 crisis has prompted Washington state to reassess how to reduce the risk of young people skipping their court dates or re-offending.

"Those are the kinds of big system changes that we could sustain after the quarantining is over, is to really rethink how we deploy our resources and to make sure that our kids are getting what they need and that families are getting what they need, rather than using detention as the default," she states.

Disclosure: Annie E Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA