BALTIMORE, Md. — Although incarceration disparities for Black and white youths fell over the past decade, a new report shows young people of color still are being sent to juvenile facilities at much higher rates than white youths.
Josh Rovner, a senior advocacy associate for The Sentencing Project, who wrote the report, said nationally, Black youths are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white youths, and in Maryland, six times more likely.
He thinks Maryland’s higher-than-average rate is partly because Black youths in the state tend to be put in detention more than whites.
“Detention is the stage of the process that’s post-arrest, but before the hearing, before someone’s been found responsible,” Rovner explained. “And that’s been disheartening to see the stubbornness of the disparity at the detention stage.”
However, he pointed out Maryland had a 21% decrease in racial disparities from 2015 to 2019, showing some programs to reduce the racial gap in youth incarceration are working.
Rovner pointed out racial gaps for youths most often appear at the point of arrest. Young people of color get arrested not because they commit more crimes, he noted, but because they often live in communities that have traditionally been over-policed.
“When youths of color experiment with marijuana, they’re much more likely to do so in public spaces where they’re likely to be arrested for it,” Rovner observed. “Whereas white youth living in the suburbs might be doing it in their parents’ basement and there’s no police around to see that.”
He suggested one way to help is to have law enforcement realize teenagers act out at that age and need tolerance to get them back on the right path. He emphasized many teens will grow out of certain behaviors, and argued one of the worst ways to respond is by putting them in jail.