The Sentencing Project released their last publication of 2022 highlighting valuable data on youth incarceration rates and trends. This data and research showed that youth incarceration not only fails to deter youth delinquency, but many studies show that confinement increases negative behavior while reduction in confinement does not lead to an increase in youth criminal activity. Youth incarceration also leads to increased health risks such as dental, vision, hearing issues, and even has associations with a shorter life expectancy as well as elevated mental health concerns in the areas of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideations.

The publication also discusses that the racial disparity seen at the adult detention level has correlation to the over representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. Black youth were detained at six times the rate when compared to their white peers, with Tribal youth at four times, and Latinx youths represented twice as much. The report notes that youth of color are overrepresented at each stage of the justice system, which leads to a “snowball effect” ending in increased incarceration.

The Sentencing Project also views future implications, explaining that incarcerated youth are four times more likely to be reincarcerated in adulthood. Research also showed little to no marginal benefit from longer stays, comparing a 3–6-month term to those that last over 12 months. Similarly, incarcerated youth graduate not only college at lower rates, but also high school, which can lead to poverty and the average reduced earnings for those without high school or college degrees.

This publication provides vital information when considering the need for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 2023. First enacted in 1974, this key legislation has only been reauthorized once in nearly 20 years and will help address many of the risk factors and issues The Sentencing Project has highlighted.

By Chris Bennett, Policy Intern