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Hopes for Juvenile-Justice Reform Renewed During Crisis

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Alternatives Initiative, more than 200,000 young people a year are admitted to detention facilities in the United States. (Adobe Stock)
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Alternatives Initiative, more than 200,000 young people a year are admitted to detention facilities in the United States. (Adobe Stock)
May 1, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS - A number of noticeable trends have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes lower juvenile detention numbers. A new report suggests a downward trend in states such as Minnesota.

The national survey, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows a 24% drop in the number of young people held in local detention centers in March. Minnesota was among the 30 states included in the survey.

Nate Balis is the director of the Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. He says the decline was as large as the national decrease between 2010 and 2017.

"Maybe we are finally really right sizing juvenile detention in this country," says Balis. "We could emerge from the pandemic with a detention population that truly is young people who pose an immediate community safety risk rather than all kinds of young people who are not a risk to public safety."

Balis adds that this provides an opportunity to redirect funding and provide more community support for those young people who commit minor offenses.

The survey found the recent decrease was driven mostly by a drop in admissions, from 171 per day in January to about 122 per day in March.

Sarah Davis, associate director of The Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, says the results create a window to do away with punitive policies. But she says states such as Minnesota still have some challenges to address within the juvenile-justice system.

"We have to be mindful that there are still really significant racial disparities of who we are confining in juvenile-detention facilities," says Davis. "And that's both in Minnesota and nationally."

And Davis says there are inconsistencies when it comes to geography, where many counties participate in alternative programs for young offenders, but some don't.

She says that could mean a teen who lives in a participating county but gets picked up in a neighboring county that doesn't participate will miss out on community support in recovering from their mistake.

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.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN