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Pandemic Offers Hope for Reducing Disparities in Juvenile Justice

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Friday, July 3, 2020   

INDIANAPOLIS - Fewer young people are being admitted to jails because of COVID-19, and the drop has been bigger for youth of color than their white peers.

Annie E. Casey Foundation data from about a third of juvenile detention facilities - including some in Indiana - 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.

Nate Balis, director of the Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group sees a couple of reasons for the drop: fewer young people are being arrested for minor offenses, and the school-to-prison pipeline has been shut down.

"There are thousands and thousands of young people arrested every year in their schools," says Balis. Being arrested in school has pretty much stopped during this time, so we know that that cuts off an entire source of arrests."

Balis says there is tremendous momentum to examine the reach of the juvenile justice system and to create better pathways to opportunity for young people.

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

These reform efforts are at so-called "deep end" facilities, where kids are sent after sentencing - it's also the phase of juvenile justice where racial disparities are highest.

Chief Deputy Probation Officer for the Marion Superior Court, Christina Ball, says they've focused on specifically on reducing technical violations.

"We've specifically put in some policies and practices to ensure that recommendations for removal from the home, and for filing violations from the get-go," says Ball, "were reviewed more carefully and received some higher attention."

Ball says reforms have allowed them to successfully keep kids in their communities with the right support services in place, and with no negative impact on public safety.

"Commitments to the Indiana Department of Corrections have been reduced by 47% over the last five years," says Ball, "Our total out-of-home placements have been reduced by 59%. And actually, we're even seeing fewer kids getting placed on probation."

In a pilot program testing these reforms at 12 sites across the country, incarceration for Black youths dropped by roughly 67%.

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.


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