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Cut in MD Youth Detention During Pandemic Lowers Racial Disparities

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Maryland officials released 200 juveniles from detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic. (Adobe stock)
Maryland officials released 200 juveniles from detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic. (Adobe stock)
May 7, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Youth detention in Maryland is down by nearly a third since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, matching a national trend.

A new survey from The Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that the number of young people in detention has fallen 24% in 30 states since March.

The percentage of black youths detained since March has also declined, from more than 75% to almost 60%, according to Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services. The agency also shows the state has a large number of incarcerated African American youth. Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, says we need to be concerned about imprisoned black youth in Maryland.

"This is clearly a social justice issue, when we talk about African-American youths being incarcerated or not," Schindler states. "And so we should be very mindful of the justice system acting in ways that don't exacerbate negative implications for African-American youths and their families."

Last week, Maryland officials released about 200 youths from detention facilities in response to court rulings calling for the need to keep children safe during the pandemic.

The uptick in juvenile detention releases during the pandemic could mark a turning point for juvenile justice reform.

Nate Balis, director of The Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, points out that the foundation's report helps demonstrate that jurisdictions can safely reduce detention by keeping youths who've been in trouble with the law in their communities instead.

"It's an opportunity to provide more support to organizations that are actually working with young people in the community, supporting them and their families and keeping all of us safe and to disinvest from the overuse of secure detention centers, youth prisons and other residential facilities," he points out.

Balis says the report shows the national decrease in youth detention in one month is as large as the entire decline that took place from 2010 to 2017.

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.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD