New report shows persistent racial and ethnic disparities in youth incarcerations

While youth incarceration has dropped by almost half over the last decade, Back and American Indian youth are more likely to be incarcerated than white youth.

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A new report from The Sentencing Project reveals persistent racism in the juvenile justice system. While youth incarceration has dropped by almost half over the last decade, Black and American Indian youth are more likely to be incarcerated than white youth.

Black youth are fives times more likely to be incarcerated, while American Indian youth are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth in every state, according to the study. The study revealed that New Jersey was ranked number one for having the highest Black-white disparities in youth incarceration.

“These disparities are not only caused by differences in offending but also by harsher enforcement and punishment of youth of color. White youth are less likely to be arrested than other teenagers, which is partly attributable to unequal policing and partly to differential involvement in crime.”

The study determined that after arrest, “youth of color are more likely to be detained pre-adjudication and committed post adjudication.” And most Black youth and American Indian youth are less likely to be diverted from the system, according to the study.

As the nation continues with the advancement of racial justice priorities, The Sentencing Project gives recommendations to eluded youth decarceration including:

  1. Racial impact statements
    States and localities should require the use of racial impact statements to educate policymakers about how changes in sentencing or law enforcement policies and practices might impact racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.
  2. Publish demographic data quarterly
    States and counties should publish demographic data quarterly on the number of incarcerated or justice-system involved youth, including race and ethnicity. The federal government should disseminate this information nationwide.
  3. Invest in communities
    States and localities must invest in communities to strengthen public infrastructures, such as schools and medical and mental health services, with particular focus on accommodating the needs of children of color.

“Even as incarceration falls, youth of color are still being treated more harshly than their white peers,” Josh Rovner, senior advocacy associate and the author of Racial Disparities in Youth Incarceration Persist, said. “States and counties must tackle their racial and ethnic disparities head on.”

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