Data from the Sentencing Project showed the share of crimes in the U.S. committed by young people fell by more than half in the past two decades. It also decreased in all major types of offenses in 2020.

Michal Gross, an assistant public defender in Southern Maryland who works with youth, said the report affirms efforts in the state to decrease youth incarceration and increase the use of evidence-based treatment and other services focusing on addressing mental health concerns.

“Some of it is that youths are not committing as many crimes,” Gross noted. “When youths are involved in the juvenile court system, we are giving them age-appropriate and informed therapeutic interventions to help continue to decrease these numbers.”

According to the report, juvenile detention and transfers to adult court can worsen youth outcomes. A 2020 report found Maryland was one of the worst states when it comes to automatically processing youths as young as 14 in adult court.

Gross encouraged reforms for deciding which offenders should go to adult court, along with investing in school mental-health resources such as counselors.

According to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, juvenile arrests in Maryland dropped by about 53% from 2010 to 2019.

Richard Mendel, a senior research fellow for The Sentencing Project and the report’s author, said national crime rates among kids and teens have been declining for years.

“Over the past 20 years, the share of arrests of kids under 18 has fallen by more than half,” Mendel reported. “They continue to fall. A lot of this has been tied to the pandemic. The share of crimes that were committed by kids went down, and despite that, we’re seeing this narrative of youth crime ‘out of control.’ “

The report only included data up to 2020, and its authors acknowledged future data may reveal youth crime rates have increased since then. However, they noted it would be understandable, given the mental-health impacts of the pandemic on kids. They concluded it should not serve as a rationale for stricter juvenile-justice policies.

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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