Native youth 3x and Black youth 5x more likely to be locked up than white peers

A new report on youth incarceration finds the same old news - from The Sentencing Project

Youth incarceration dropped by half in America from 2007 to 2017 despite “raise the age” campaigns which kept more teenagers out of the adult justice system and in the youth system. But racial disparities persist. A new report released this month found nationwide that Native youth are three times and Black youth are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth. Latino youth are still more likely to be incarcerated than white youth but at a smaller rate. 

On any given day in 2017, the most recent national data, 43,580 youth were under the supervision of those state systems, according to the report from The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C. based research think tank that advocates for criminal justice reform. Two thirds of those kids are held in confinement in youth detention centers which are essentially prisons for those convicted of breaking laws while under 18. 

"Even as incarceration falls, youth of color are still being treated more harshly than their white peers," Josh Rovner, senior advocacy associate at The Sentencing Project and the author of the report, said in a press release last week.

The report stated that the disparities originate from different offenses but “also by harsher enforcement and punishment of youth of color.” White teenagers are less likely to be arrested, and nonwhite youth are more likely to be imprisoned as a result of their cases and are less likely to be diverted from the system to treatment.  

Wyoming incarcerates the most youth per 100,000 in the whole country, but New Jersey has the highest disparity between Black and white youth. A Black youth is 20 times as likely as a white youth to be incarcerated even though the state has the second lowest incarceration rate per 100,000. South Dakota and North Carolina top the disparity between Native and white youth. Native youth are over four times more likely to be incarcerated. “Youth of color are more likely to be incarcerated for each of the categories of offending: person offenses, property offenses, drug offenses, public order offenses and status offenses,” the report stated. 

"States and counties must tackle their racial and ethnic disparities head on,” Rovner said. The report offered three recommendations: racial impact statements that address policies’ and law enforcement’s impact on youth of color, regularly published data on youth in detention that details ethnicity and race and investment in community infrastructure such as schools and medical and mental health services.

COVID-19 resources: State policy changesNewsBureau of Prisons updatesState court changesPrison holistic self care and protection.

We want to hear from you about how COVID-19 is impacting you and the people connected to you. What is not being talked about? What story do you have that needs to be heard? Who do you want answers or explanations from? Please reach out to

Leave a comment