WYoung whites were being released from juvenile detention centers at a much higher rate than their black peers during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US, and more people of color are now being detained for longer. than before the crisis. based on data collected by a leading children’s philanthropic group.
So many children were released from jail last year that at the end of the summer, fewer children were incarcerated than at any other time. since at least the 1980s. But many juvenile facilities are increasingly housing black and Latino teen populations, according to interviews with more than a dozen juvenile justice officials and attorneys in seven states.
Although racial inequality in youth detention has long been stark, it is wider than ever, they say. Experts point to several possible explanations, including bias from judges and other officials, and young people of color who are detained for more serious crimes and have fewer resources and alternatives to incarceration in their communities.
“It is appropriate that in 2020, the year that Covid protests and racial justice are juxtaposed, we saw this shrinking of the system, but also a resistance to doing so for young black people,” said Patricia Soung, a children’s attorney and former director of youth. justice policy for the California Children’s Defense Fund.
By May 2020, detention centers were releasing white youth at a rate 17% higher than black youth, according to a monthly report. survey of juvenile justice agencies in more than 30 states conducted by the Annie E Casey Foundation.
And in the months since, while the number of white youth has historically remained low, the number of black and Latino youth has increased slightly, said Tom Woods, senior associate and juvenile justice data analyst at the Casey Foundation.
The racial gap in detention is worsening even though teens, including those of color, were arrested less frequently in 2020, data shows. In general, the police have taken a more non-intervening approach due to the virus, and because classes have gone virtual, young people have interacted less with school officials.
One explanation for the worsening disparity, some juvenile justice officials told the Casey Foundation, is that with fewer young people detained this year, more of them have been incarcerated for more serious crimes, often related to weapons, which are more likely teenagers of color. to be incarcerated, based on data prior to 2020. The severity of the charges makes it more difficult to release them.
This is also anecdotally supported by reports of increased gun violence among youth from black majority neighborhoods in major cities during the summer and fall of 2020.
“There may be a legitimate public safety reason for a racial disparity,” said Sam J Abed, secretary of Maryland’s department of youth services, which cut its incarcerated population by more than half this year. “But we have to come up with a release plan even for young people who are at risk, because the time they spend in detention is really damaging.”
Other experts and juvenile justice officials noted that prosecutors are more likely to label crimes committed by youth of color “aggravated” and charge them with gun possession, making it more difficult to argue that they should be released.
Several studies indicate that judges and probation officers who help decide which children can go home are disproportionately white and tend to have greater empathy for young people who look like themselves.
During the pandemic, another layer of racial inequality has been installed for youth of color, said defense attorneys for children across the country. Some judges and probation officers are reluctant to release children of color because they are more likely to be handed over to an elderly caregiver vulnerable to Covid-19, or to a single parent.
Youth of color also have fewer alternatives to detention available in their neighborhoods. Lack of funding and coronavirus concerns have made social services, mental health treatment, extracurricular activities, and mentoring opportunities even more scarce. Judges are less likely to approve the release of adolescents who do not have access to such resources.
“The first beneficiaries of a reduction system are those who have another place to go,” he says. James bell, founding president of the W Haywood Burns Institute, whose goal is to ensure racial equity in the juvenile justice system.
Still, juvenile justice officials told the Marshall Project that they are redoubling their efforts to combat racial disparity amid the pandemic.
“We are still releasing more white children than black and Hispanic children, but the rates are going in the right direction now,” said Diana Quintana, assistant executive director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in Houston, Texas. “I’m sure we’ve contributed to it in ways we don’t even know about.”
In the first month of the pandemic alone, the number of children held in detention centers fell by 24%, a larger decrease than 2010 to 2017 combined. (A new report released this week by the Youth First Initiative, an advocacy group, found a similar drop for most of 2020 in the population of juvenile prisons, where children are locked up after being sentenced).
In many ways, this dramatic decline, coupled with a dramatically worsening racial disparity, echoes the trends of the past two decades. Since 2000, the youth incarceration rate in the United States has dropped by more than half, which is considered a great achievement.
Yet two decades ago, white children were locked up more often than black children; By 2019, more than 104,000 black youth were detained, compared to fewer than 82,000 white youth, although only 13% of Americans are black.
And for those young people who remain in detention this year, the experience has been more damaging than usual. Children in juvenile prisons are lonelier than ever, because most of the visiting your parents and loved ones have been canceled due to the virus, as well as most cases in person. classes and programs.
Zakiya Reddy-Cherif, a black Philadelphia mother whose teenage son has been incarcerated during the pandemic, has not been allowed to visit him the entire time, she said. But later this month, he has a court date where his public defender will ask the judge for his early release, citing concerns about Covid-19.
If he goes out, she just wants to hold him and smell his skin, she said, adding, “I know it’s crazy, but I’m mom.”
“But every time I go to court, everyone looks like me and everyone’s son looks like my son,” he said. “So no, I can’t say I’m hopeful.”
This article was published in collaboration with the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the US criminal justice system Sign up for the Marshall Project Newsletter, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism