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70,792 juveniles were reported to be incarcerated across the United States in 2010, but according to a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that’s actually a sign of improvement. The study, “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” found that the rates of young people being sent to juvenile detention facilities has dropped 41% since 1995, mainly due to budget cuts and states trying alternatives to incarceration for young offenders.
The study analyzed data from the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, a one-day survey taken every two years of incarcerated youth under the age of 21. The Census is a comprehensive look at the populations of juvenile facilities, both long-term residential placement and training schools, around the U.S.
While the study points to a rapid decline in the rate of young people being sent to juvenile facilities, there is a catch. The numbers of young people tried as adults and housed in adult facilities remain high. The report points to research by National Prisoner Statistics program and the Annual Survey of Jails, which say that an average day in 2010, 7,560 youth under age 18 were held in adult jails and 2,295 were in adult prisons.
Laura Speer, Associate Director of Policy Reform & Data at the Casey Foundation, says that the worry that states are leaning more toward sentencing young people as adults is always a concern. “The problem is that while rates of youth crimes have dropped, the laws that automatically treat them as adults haven’t caught up,” she said. Speer explained that North Carolina and New York both try young people as adults as early as the age of 16. Advocates have pushed legislators to change these laws without avail and serve as an example of how difficult it can be to reverse them.
Collecting the data is also a challenge for researchers. Speer says, “Most states don’t keep track of young people prosecuted as adults.”
She said that people think that numbers regarding adult convictions for juveniles are an underestimate, but that it’s critical to make them a priority in the future because of the long-term effects it can have on those incarcerated.
“The likelihood [young people in adult facilities] will be maltreated is higher,” Speer said, “They’re much likely to recidivate than folks in juvenile facilities. Putting them in adult facilities just exacerbates problems.”
To see the full report go to the Casey Foundation’s website.