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TN Youth Detention Population Plummets During Pandemic

Juvenile court officials say school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to the nationwide drop in youth arrests and detention. (Adobe Stock)
Juvenile court officials say school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to the nationwide drop in youth arrests and detention. (Adobe Stock)

April 27, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee juvenile courts say the number of arrests of young people has dropped since the coronavirus pandemic began - and this mirrors a national trend, according to a new analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The review of juvenile justice agencies in 30 states showed the number of kids in local youth detention centers dipped by 24% in March alone. Court Administrator for Davidson County Juvenile Court Kathryn Sinback said with schools and businesses closed, there are fewer chances for teens to end up in situations in that result in arrest.

"So we've seen a decrease over the past eight weeks since COVID started, of about 40% in Davidson County," Sinback said. "A 40% decrease in juvenile arrests; I think that is largely because children are staying at home more with their parents."

Tennessee has 98 juvenile courts and 25 juvenile detention centers statewide, housing more than 1,000 young people. The Casey Foundation report also found that by mid-April, 15% of juvenile court jurisdictions nationwide had confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their detention facilities, with more positive cases among staff than youths.

Sinback said she thinks the pandemic could lead to even further reductions in youth detention for those who don't pose a serious threat to public safety, but often come from troubled households or are victims of abuse and neglect.

"I hope that one of the things that will come out of this is a real understanding that family togetherness and family bonding is essential for reducing delinquency," she said.

A 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that nationwide, juvenile arrests remain near historically low levels, although they continue to disproportionately involve young people of color.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN