Contact: Colleen Shaddox 203-785-8520
Dramatic Drop Presents Reform Opportunity
Youth incarceration is at a 35-year low in Massachusetts and around the country, according to a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
New juvenile detention admissions in Massachusetts have dropped 56.7 percent over the past 10 years, according to Department of Youth Services data. The department's committed caseload has dropped 66 percent since 2002. Those statistics do not include 17-year-olds, who are automatically prosecuted as adults in the state, even for minor crimes.
The state is experiencing a dramatic drop in youth crime, as is the country as a whole. In Massachusetts, arrests of people under 18 have declined 37 percent since 2009. The state has also invested in diversion and alternative to detention programs in some communities that have kept young people successfully out of juvenile facilities.
"Some – but not all – communities have fine diversion programs," said Massachusetts Child Advocate Gail Garinger. "What happens to a child should not depend on where he or she lives. Community-based programs do a better job of safeguarding public safety and getting kids back on track. They are usually a better financial as well as societal investment."
The Annie E. Casey report, Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States, notes that many Americans under 18 are held in adult jails and prisons for minor offenses, where they are at high risk for physical and sexual assault. In Massachusetts, all 17-year-olds accused of crimes are automatically sent to the adult system and are confined in adult jails and prisons.
"Kids are safer and more likely to grow up to be productive members of our community when they are treated as juveniles," said Lael Chester, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice. "The Casey report clearly shows that there is room in our juvenile justice system to include 17-year-olds. We should immediately raise the age to 18, as 39 states already have done."
Many attempts are underway to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 in Massachusetts. These include stand-alone bills by Reps. Kay Khan (D-Newton) and Brad Hill (R-Ipswich) and Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), as well as inclusion in broader legislation proposed by Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
The report also notes that minority youth are confined at much higher rates than whites, though research shows that minority youth in fact do not commit more crimes or more serious crimes. Nationally, African-American youth outnumber whites in juvenile facilities by an almost five-to-one margin. While youth of color comprise only a little over 25 percent of the total youth population of Massachusetts, they accounted for the vast majority (68%) of the juveniles in confinement last year.
"Massachusetts residents should demand more and better data collection from all stakeholders in the juvenile justice system to see exactly where and why racial disparity occurs so that we can better combat it," said Chester. "Citizens for Juvenile Justice's own research has shown that minority students are arrested at much higher rates in public schools, often for minor misbehavior."
Annie E. Casey's Data Center http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=42 contains more information about youth incarceration in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.