Black Children Five Times More Likely Than White Youth to Be Incarcerated


Even as the number of children incarcerated in juvenile facilities continues to decline nationwide, the racial disparity in youth incarceration has grown, according to data from the Department of Justice. As of 2015, African American youth were five times as likely as white youth to be detained or committed to youth facilities.

A new fact sheet from the Sentencing Project shows that the racial disparity in youth incarceration has increased since 2001, when Black youth were four times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

From 2001 to 2015, juvenile incarceration fell by 54 percent, but white youth incarceration has declined faster than that of Black youth. The national rate of youth incarceration was 152 per 100,000; the Black youth placement rate was 433 per 100,000, compared to 86 per 100,000 for white youth. Overall, the racial disparity between Black and white youth in custody increased 22 percent since 2001.

Of the 48,043 youth held in juvenile facilities (including residential treatment centers, detention centers, training schools, and juvenile jails and prisons) in the United States as of October 2015, 44 percent were African American. Only 16 percent of youth nationwide are Black.

The Sentencing Project’s state-by-state analysis showed that in six states, African American youth are at least 10 times as likely to be held in placement as are white youth: New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

While three states (Vermont, West Virginia, and New Hampshire) decreased their racial disparity by at least half, the disparity at least doubled in Maryland, Montana, Connecticut, Delaware, and Wisconsin.

“The disparity exists because of differences in how young people of color are treated at every point of contact with the justice system, but the growth of the incarceration disparity is likely due to growing disparities in arrests, which feeds the rest of the system,” Joshua Rovner, who studies juvenile justice at the Sentencing Project, told Mother Jones.

Black children are more than twice as likely as white kids to be arrested, but the data shows this disparity is not because Black kids are committing more crimes, Mother Jones reports. Black youth are burdened by a presumption of guilt and dangerousness — a legacy of our history of racial injustice that marks youth of color for disparately frequent stops, searches, and violence and leads to higher rates of childhood suspension, expulsion, and arrest at school; disproportionate contact with the juvenile justice system; harsher charging decisions and disadvantaged plea negotiations; a greater likelihood of being denied bail and diversion; an increased risk of wrongful convictions and unfair sentences; and higher rates of probation and parole revocation.

“In an era of racial segregation, especially residential segregation, Black youths’ lives are surrounded by police officers, and their teenaged mistakes are more likely to land in the juvenile justice system,” Mr. Rovner explained. “White youth’s mistakes are not.”