NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (CN) – Black boys make up nearly half of all male juveniles in confinement despite the fact that less than 14 percent of minors in the U.S. are black, according to a report from a Massachusetts-based prison reform advocacy group.
More than 70 million people in the United States are under the age of 18 and on any given day, about 48,000 juveniles are held in youth correctional facilities across the country, the Prison Policy Initiative’s Feb. 27 report states.
Many of those juveniles are held pre-trial or for nonviolent, low-level offenses such as probation violations, according to the report, which used data from the Department of Justice and included recommendations to continue the decade-long trend of reducing youth incarceration.
While the number of minors confined in the U.S. could fill a small town, the statistics actually reflect an improvement in reducing confinement rates. A 2013 report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that there were about 71,000 minors in correctional facilities in 2010, a significant drop from 108,000 in 1995.
Wendy Sawyer, who wrote the Prison Policy Institute’s report, said that despite the continued reduction, she did not expect to see that so many children continue to be incarcerated for minor offenses.
“A lot of it was surprising to me,” Sawyer said in an interview. “I’m aware that the number of those confined has gone down. I was really surprised that after making all these progressive moves, they are still locking up a lot of people for low-level offenses.”
The Prison Policy Institute also found that racial disparities in the adult prison system are pronounced in the juvenile incarceration system as well.
In 2015, black prisoners made up about 35.4 percent of the adult male prison population, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, while black boys make up 43 percent of the confined male juvenile population. Less than 14 percent of minors in the U.S. are black.
A recent study from The W. Haywood Burns Institute, which used data from 2015, found that 73 percent of incarcerated youth were held for nonviolent offenses, and 69 percent of all confined juveniles were non-white.
Compared to white youth offenders, black juveniles are five times more likely to be confined, Native American youths are 3.1 times as likely and Latino youths are 1.6 times as likely, the W. Haywood Burns Institute report states.
Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming have the highest rates of youth confinement, which each state in the range of 241 to 329 minors incarcerated per 100,000 juveniles, according to Justice Department data.
New England states are almost all on the lower end of youth confinement in terms of percentage of the total population. Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut all boast confinement rates between 38 and 95 jailed youths per 100,000 juveniles. Rhode Island is an outlier with 200 youths in confinement per 100,000.
Almost one in five juveniles in detention facilities are there for minor offenses or status violations, such as failing to meet with their probation officer, truancy or violating curfew, according to the Prison Policy Initiative report.