Although youth incarceration rates in the U.S. are on the decline, a report from The Sentencing Project reveals the number of young people being detained is much higher than what is normally documented.

Youth incarceration data is typically measured through a one-day count in October. The report estimates at least 80% of the young people incarcerated are excluded from the count.

Josh Rovner, a senior advocacy associate for The Sentencing Project and the report’s author, said getting the data right is important.

“One out of every four kids who are sent to court are detained at the outset,” Rovner reported. “For white youths, that’s one out of every five. For Black and Latino youths, it’s closer to 30%, and that is not connected to the seriousness of the offense.”

More than 1,000 juveniles were incarcerated in a Maryland youth detention center in 2021.

Jenny Egan, a juvenile public defender in Baltimore, said one solution to lowering youth incarceration rates in Maryland is Senate Bill 691, which encourages court diversion for low-level cases.

“Prior to the pandemic, two-thirds of children incarcerated in Maryland were there for a misdemeanor as the most serious offense,” Egan explained. “The bill hopefully will reduce the overuse of incarceration for low-level, first-time misdemeanants and technical violations of probation.”

Jayna Peterson, director of legislative affairs for the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said even just a few weeks in a detention facility can be a major disruption to a young person’s life.

“Any support or normalcy to their lives is no longer there,” Peterson observed. “And the stigma that comes from arrest even, is so damaging to a child, especially at the young ages that we’re seeing them being arrested.”

The report found 240,000 instances of young people being detained or committed in 2019.

Emily Scott is a reporter and producer in Philadelphia. She previously worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and is a 2018 graduate of Temple University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

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