Unbalanced Juvenile Justice
The Burns Institute is in pursuit of an equitable and excellent youth justice system. A system used sparingly and appropriately. We know that our current youth justice system is not equitable, excellent, or used sparingly and appropriately. More than 47,000 youth were incarcerated on any given night in 2015, most (73 percent) for non-violent offenses. The majority (69 percent) of those incarcerated were youth of color.
Nationwide, youth of color are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than White youth. In 2015:
- Black youth were 5 times as likely;
- Native American youth were 3.1 times as likely; and
- Latino youth were 1.6 times as likely.
The U.S. stands out in its use of youth incarceration. We incarcerate youth at higher rates than anywhere in the world: five times the rate of South Africa; 15 times the rate of Germany and 30 times the rate of Italy. With more than 75 percent of youth locked up for non-violent offenses, the U.S does not have an alarming crime problem; we have an alarming incarceration problem. And it’s a problem primarily for youth of color.
To solve the problem, we need to better understand it. To help you better understand racial and ethnic disparities and how juvenile justice is being administered in your county, state, and nationwide, BI's interactive tools provide customizable searches.
From the national map page, you may answer key questions about the problem of racial and ethnic disparities:
- How many youth in my state are detained for non-violent offenses?
- How has youth incarceration in my state changed over the past decade?
- Nationwide, what are the rates of detention for each racial and ethnic group?
The “Annual decision points” section on the state pages includes data at nine key juvenile justice decision-making points. Data are available at the county- and state-level, but only for counties that report these data to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Answer questions about your county or state, such as:
- How many youth are arrested or transferred to adult court annually?
- How much more likely are Black youth to be referred to Court than White youth?
- What are the rates of youth involvement in the justice system at nine key decision making points?
The Relative Rate Index (RRI) (the method used by OJJDP to assess disproportionate minority contact) can be reproduced by selecting “calculate disparity gap using rate per prior decision point.” Select “raw numbers” to view the numbers behind the RRI.
You can send your customized data to a colleague or download the raw data to continue working with it. We hope that you will use this website as a tool to better understand the current system, particularly to better understand who is incarcerated and why. We hope you will use your understanding to advocate for excellent outcomes and equity for youth.
Take the self-guided tour to learn about all the features on this website.
Our website is populated by data provided to us by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Continue reading for details about the One-day count and Annual decision points data.
One-day count data
One-day count data show how many youth are detained, committed, or otherwise sleeping somewhere other than their homes per orders of the court on "any given day" in select years. Data are available for the nation and on a state-by-state basis. Data are based upon one-day counts of youth in residential placement facilities conducted in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015. (Data will be added for future years as it becomes available. When this website was launched, 1997-2011 data were available).
On this website, we provide options to view data about youth by detention, commitment or incarceration status. Choosing “incarceration” provides the total number of youth in residential placement by adding detention, commitment and diversion numbers. The NCJRS defines diversion as “juveniles sent to a facility in lieu of adjudication as part of a diversion agreement.”“Diversion” numbers are small. In 2011, youth incarcerated as “diversion” made up .75 percent of all youth incarcerated [464 of 61,412]. We do not include an option to view data on diversion on our website. Diversions are included in the total incarceration numbers through 2011 but not for 2013 or 2015.
According to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook, the one-day population counts of juveniles in residential placement facilities provide a picture of the standing population in facilities. These data are rounded to the nearest multiple of three to comply with OJJDP confidentiality and privacy protections. One-day counts are substantially different from annual admission and release data, which give a measure of facility population flow.
One-day count data is based on the location where the offense was committed; a youth may be placed out of state. Many youth in "residential placement" are in locked facilities: detention centers or youth prisons. Those who are not in locked facilities have generally been ordered by a court into a residential placement facility.
For additional information about methodology, see Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.
Annual decision points data
As a component of the Relative Rate Index (RRI) Modification Project that began in 2009, OJJDP formally asked states to complete or delete any data entries that were incomplete in the DMC Web-Based Entry System prior to (and including) 2006. As a result, many states chose to delete these data and they are not available on this website.
Additionally, states define decision points differently, and data are gathered from many different county and state agencies. If you have questions about how terms are defined in your state, or concerns regarding the accuracy of the data you are viewing, the best person to contact is your state’s DMC/RED coordinator or juvenile justice specialist. Contact information for these people can be found on your state’s page by clicking the Contact button.
Examining the data and asking questions when data appear inaccurate are the best ways to let justice agency leadership know that there is a demand for accurate, reliable juvenile justice data.
To take advantage of the powerful annual decision point tool, it is helpful to have a prior understanding of the distinction between rates based on the total youth population, rates relative to a prior decision making point, rates relative to White youth, and a basic understanding of how the RRI is calculated.
More information about these calculations is available on our Measurements page.