January 18, 2020

Racial, Ethnic Disparities Persist in Number, Rate of Young People Residing in Juvenile Justice Facilities

Racial and ethnic disparities of youth residing in juvenile justice facilities in 2017

The number and share of young people in juvenile detention, correctional or residential facilities in the United States continued to decline through 2017, but that development masks an important and persistent problem: certain racial and ethnic groups are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system.

According to the federal resource known as Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (EZACJRP), in 2017 — based on a one-day snapshot — 43,580 people under age 21 lived in juvenile detention, correctional or residential facilities. This translates to a rate of 138 per 100,000 young people, a decrease of more than half since 2006 (when the rate was 289 per 100,000 young people). This decline has been broad based, with reductions in every state between 2006 and 2017, and with every count conducted during that period showing reductions in every racial and ethnic category compared with the previous census.

Yet significant disparities exist between young people in different racial and ethnic groups:

  • American Indian: 752 young people, a rate of 235 per 100,000
  • Asian: 361 young people, a rate of 19 per 100,000
  • Black: 17,841 young people, a rate of 383 per 100,000
  • Hispanic: 9,161 young people, a rate of 118 per 100,000
  • White: 14,215 young people, a rate of 83 per 100,000
  • Youth from other groups totaled 1,250, with a rate per 100,000 not available.

These racial disparities have been remarkably persistent. In every count since 1997, the rate of living in juvenile facilities has been more than twice as high among American Indian youth and four times as high among black youth, as among white youth.

But the data also show that progress is possible. For example, in 2011, Hispanic youth were 80% more likely than white youth to be living in juvenile facilities. By 2017, that gap had been reduced by nearly half, with a rate for Hispanic youth that was 42% higher than for white youth.

Although the rate of incarceration of young people has fallen consistently in most states, racial and ethnic disparities persist in every state. In all but six states, black youth are placed in juvenile justice facilities at higher rates than any other population (the exceptions are Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon and South Carolina, where American Indian young people are incarcerated at a higher rate, and Mississippi, where the highest rate is for Hispanic youth).

The Annie E. Casey Foundation seeks to help build a more effective and equitable youth justice system through its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative® and other juvenile justice reform efforts so all young people are able to thrive and grow into responsible adults, even when they make mistakes and violate the law in serious ways.