Juvenile detention rates show big racial disparities in IN, US

Research by The Sentencing Project shows the 2021 Black/White Youth Placement rates per 100,000 young people was 278 for Black youth and 93 for white youth. (Adobe Stock)

Youth incarceration rates have declined in Indiana and nationwide since 2014. But a new study shows young people of color are more likely to be jailed than their white counterparts - and Indiana is no exception.

The Indiana Juvenile Justice Racial and Ethnic Disparities Plan says almost 30% of Black youths are placed in pretrial facilities, compared to almost 16% of white youths.

Nationally, the figures are even higher. According to The Sentencing Project, Black youths are almost five times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention than their white peers.

But Josh Rovner, director of youth justice at The Sentencing Project, said detention is neither the best nor the only answer.

"I think that we need to find ways to address those misbehaviors outside of the justice system," said Rovner, "because the justice system is so likely to do damage to these kids, where what we really need from them is true accountability and not punishment."

Youth incarceration in Indiana has been on a steady decline for years due to fewer arrests, and an emphasis on diversion programs.

A Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is now in 31 Indiana counties, to redirect public resources from mass incarceration to investing in youth, families and communities.

The Sentencing Project study says 15% of young people in the U.S. are Black, but they make up 42% of those in detention.

Rovner asserted that incarceration isn't about the level or kinds of offenses - it's the result of a justice system that treats youth of color more harshly than whites.

He added that it can't be fixed overnight, and includes many players who bear a collective responsibility.

"There are police, and there are prosecutors, judges; there are sheriffs and wardens," said Rovner. "These are public employees, who are responding to laws that our nation, or our states or counties, have passed and implemented those laws."

Rovner said he hopes lawmakers will examine their own state's progress in the New Year, and notes that poverty and inequality lead to kids being locked up in the first place.

In 2022, Indiana's Legislature passed House Enrolled Act 1359 - which required the state to develop a juvenile diversion plan and community alternatives grant programs.

By Terri Dee, Anchor/Producer