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NC Sees Drop in Youth Arrests, Detention Since Pandemic Began

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)
May 6, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The state's juvenile courts say arrests of young people have dropped since the coronavirus pandemic began, mirroring a national trend, according to a new analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In North Carolina, the daily juvenile-detention population dropped by 25% from the beginning of March to mid-April. Assistant professor Barbara Fedders, who directs the Youth Justice Clinic at the University of North Carolina's School of Law, said the coronavirus pandemic is prompting judges to release kids rather than hold them in pretrial detention. Fedders said she hopes the trend sticks.

"My guess would be that greater numbers of kids not being held in pre-trial detention does not result in some big crime spike," she said. "What I'm hoping is that what people take from this, if and when we ever get back to something like normal, is that detention is not a place for kids."

Instead of detaining kids, Fedders said, the state could expand its use of electronic monitoring or home confinement.

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.

Fedders said she is worried about COVID-19's effect on family dynamics and financial stability, noting that juvenile offenders often come from troubled households or are victims of abuse and neglect.

"A lot of what goes into juvenile court is family problems, and it's usually really desperate parents who don't have access to any community-based services," she said. "Court's not open, really, to those cases, and so I have bigger pictures concerns about the level of family violence that's going on, exacerbated by poverty."

Research has shown that youth arrests continue to involve young people of color disproportionately. According to 2018 data from the Juvenile Justice Section of North Carolina's Department of Public Safety, more than 60% of youths admitted to detention centers are African-American.

The AECF data is online at aecf.org, and North Carolina's Department of Public Safety 2018 report is online at ncdps.gov.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC