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Report: COVID-19 Narrows Racial Gap in Youth Jails

The rate of Black and Latinx young people admitted to jails has fallen faster than the rate for white youth during the pandemic. (luaeva/Adobe Stock)
The rate of Black and Latinx young people admitted to jails has fallen faster than the rate for white youth during the pandemic. (luaeva/Adobe Stock)
June 29, 2020

SEATTLE -- Fewer young people are being admitted to jails because of COVID-19, according to data from The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

And the drop has been bigger for youth of color than their white peers.

Data from about a third of juvenile detention facilities finds total admissions were down by more than half between March and May.

White youth detention fell 26%. Black and Latino youth detention fell 30% and 29%, respectively.

Anne Lee, executive director of youth advocacy group TeamChild, which serves King, Pierce, Spokane and Yakima counties, says people are reevaluating the criminal justice system right now, and this could be an opportunity to reform it.

"Let's maintain that level of confidence that community can hold kids safely -- that they can be safe, that they don't have to be incarcerated -- and restructure how we think about that going forward," she states.

Researchers note that this is just a snapshot of juvenile justice systems nationwide.

Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group for the Casey Foundation, says it isn't clear what has led to the larger drop in admissions for youth of color, but it could be that fewer young people are being arrested for minor offenses.

"There are young people who may have been admitted to secure detention centers three months ago, who simply aren't being admitted anymore," he states.

There are other pushes to close the racial gap in juvenile justice. The Casey Foundation is working with what are known as Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative sites, including one in Pierce County.

These reform efforts are at the so-called "deep end" facilities, such as youth prisons and group homes, where children are sent after sentencing, and it's the phase of juvenile justice where racial disparities are highest. Balis says there should be more opportunities for youths to stay in their communities.

"It's about changing probation practices, making sure that there are services that support young people at home and support their families," he stresses. "It's about keeping most young people out of the juvenile justice system altogether, by diverting them."

Disclosure: The 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