Summary: Juvenile Arrests

Spotlight on Key Indicators: Juvenile Arrests
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Learn More About Juvenile Arrests

Juvenile Arrests
Children's Emotional Health
Disconnected Youth
Pupil Support Services
School Climate
School Attendance and Discipline
Gang Involvement
Intimate Partner Violence
School Safety
Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
Why This Topic Is Important
Most young people who are arrested are not ultimately convicted of a crime, but those who are detained or incarcerated are at increased risk for a number of negative outcomes that can have long-term consequences, such as mental health problems, dropping out of school, difficulty with employment, and rearrest (1, 2, 3). Research suggests that any length of youth incarceration is independently associated with a higher likelihood of poor physical and mental health in adulthood (3).

Many youth enter the juvenile justice system with existing psychological or physical health problems: For example, nearly half (46%) of newly detained youth have urgent health care needs and 70% of incarcerated youth have at least one mental health disorder (3). Further, the vast majority of these young people have experienced some form of trauma during childhood, and system involvement can re-traumatize them, creating further challenges for healing and healthy development (2, 4, 5).

Juvenile justice system involvement is not experienced equally across groups. Youth of color are consistently over-represented at every stage, from arrest to incarceration, and disparate treatment of children of color compared with their white counterparts has been documented widely (1, 2, 4). LGBTQ youth also are disproportionately represented in the justice system (2). These inequities not only affect individuals but also the families and communities around them. Communities with high levels of youth incarceration typically also have higher rates of poverty and inadequate housing, health care, and other resources (5, 6). Closing these gaps will require continued multisector efforts to achieve equitable treatment and opportunities for all young people, as well as a new focus on providing hope and support to meet their needs (5, 6).
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Chisolm, D. J. (2017). Justice-involved youth: The newest target for health equity approaches? Pediatrics, 140(5), e20172800. Retrieved from: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/5/e20172800

2.  Cancio, R., et al. (2019). The color of justice: The landscape of traumatic justice. Alliance of National Psychological Associations for Racial and Ethnic Equity. Retrieved from: https://www.aecf.org/resources/the-color-of-justice

3.  Barnert, E. S., et al. (2017). How does incarcerating young people affect their adult health outcomes? Pediatrics, 139(2), e20162624. Retrieved from: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/139/2/e20162624

4.  Children Now. (2020). 2020 California children's report card: A survey of kids' well-being and roadmap for the future. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/portfolio-posts/20-report-card

5.  Miceli, S. (2019). Juvenile justice – Moving from punishment to hope and healing. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Retrieved from: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=10292019b

6.  Harvell, S., et al. (2019). Promoting a new direction for youth justice: Strategies to fund a community-based continuum of care and opportunity. Urban Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/promoting-new-direction-youth-justice-strategies-fund-community-based-continuum-care-and-opportunity
How Children Are Faring
Between 1980 and 2018, the felony arrest rate among California juveniles ages 10-17 declined by more than 87%, from 31.9 arrests per 1,000 youth to 4.1 per 1,000. Over the same period, a drop of at least 45% was recorded in every county with data. Still, juvenile felony arrest rates vary widely at the county level, from fewer than 2 arrests per 1,000 juveniles to more than 10 per 1,000 in 2018.

African American/black youth are arrested for felonies at higher rates than their peers in other groups: Statewide, the rate of felony arrest among African American/black juveniles ages 10-17 in 2018 (20.4 per 1,000) was nearly five times the rate for Hispanic/Latino juveniles (4.1 per 1,000) and almost nine times the rate for white juveniles (2.3 per 1,000). In 2018, young people of color accounted for more than three-quarters of all felony arrests involving youth under age 18 in California.

Violent offenses (assault, homicide, kidnapping, rape, and robbery) were the most common type of felony for which California youth were arrested in 2018, at 42%, followed by property offenses (e.g., arson, burglary, forgery, theft) at 28%, and drug/alcohol and sex offenses at 3% each; all other offenses (including driving under the influence, hit-and-run, and weapons violations) made up the remaining 24%. Statewide, boys account for the vast majority of felony arrests among youth under age 18—82% in 2018.
Policy Implications
The juvenile justice system (JJS) is intended to protect public safety, hold youth offenders accountable in developmentally appropriate ways, and promote positive behavior and rehabilitation. Policymakers and leaders from multiple sectors (e.g., justice, education, social services, health care, and mental health) can play a role in improving the way society responds to youth behavioral problems and juvenile crime. The process for adjudicating youth offenders often does not have the intended effect on crime control, and it does not consistently take into account relative public safety risks or circumstances of the individual (1, 2). Further, young people who are detained or incarcerated are at increased risk for a range of negative long-term outcomes (2, 3).

State and national reforms in recent decades have overhauled the JJS, and increasing emphasis is being placed on keeping youth out of the system, recognizing the harmful and often traumatizing effects of incarceration (1, 4, 5). While juvenile arrests have declined statewide and nationally, recidivism is high and racial disparities remain, with youth of color experiencing persistent inequities and poorer outcomes compared with their white peers (1, 2, 4).

Policy and practice options that could improve the JJS, reduce youth contact with the system, and promote youth success include:
  • Supporting ongoing efforts to transform the JJS so that resources are focused on (i) youth who pose risks to public safety, (ii) effective strategies for reducing recidivism, and (iii) holding justice agencies accountable for improved youth outcomes, particularly youth of color (1, 5, 6)
  • Institutionalizing evidence-based juvenile justice practices grounded in an understanding of adolescent development and designed to address trauma and facilitate resilience and healing; these should include trauma screening and treatment as well as efforts to prevent further trauma (6)
  • Improving systems of care to address the mental health needs of youth involved in the JJS, including culturally appropriate services at every point of contact; also, promoting a health equity focus that considers the family, community, and systems context of an individual (2, 3)
  • Continuing to reform the juvenile probation system so that it effectively promotes positive behavior and long-term success for youth; efforts should engage families and communities and strengthen positive youth relationships with adults and peers (1, 7)
  • Maintaining and expanding investments in a continuum of community-based services that prevent and respond to illegal behavior while keeping youth out of the JJS, as communities with high youth incarceration rates also tend to have inadequate resources and opportunities to promote healthy youth development (1, 5)
  • Implementing equitable, non-punitive school discipline policies, recognizing that youth of color are disproportionately removed from school and that students not in school are more likely to be arrested (2)
  • Reassessing the way criminal laws are enforced at the local level with the aim of addressing disparate treatment of vulnerable groups, such as youth of color and LGBTQ youth; also examining the underlying structural and cultural reasons for such treatment (2, 4)
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see the following topics on kidsdata.org: School Attendance and Discipline, Gang Involvement, and School Climate.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Weber, J., et al. (2018). Transforming juvenile justice systems to improve public safety and youth outcomes. Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform & Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: https://csgjusticecenter.org/publications/transforming-juvenile-justice-systems-to-improve-public-safety-and-youth-outcomes

2.  Cancio, R., et al. (2019). The color of justice: The landscape of traumatic justice. Alliance of National Psychological Associations for Racial and Ethnic Equity. Retrieved from: https://www.aecf.org/resources/the-color-of-justice

3.  Barnert, E. S., et al. (2017). How does incarcerating young people affect their adult health outcomes? Pediatrics, 139(2), e20162624. Retrieved from: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/139/2/e20162624

4.  Lofstrom, M., et al. (2018). New insights into California arrests: Trends, disparities, and county differences. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/new-insights-into-california-arrests-trends-disparities-and-county-difference

5.  Harvell, S., et al. (2019). Promoting a new direction for youth justice: Strategies to fund a community-based continuum of care and opportunity. Urban Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/promoting-new-direction-youth-justice-strategies-fund-community-based-continuum-care-and-opportunity

6.  Children Now. (2020). 2020 California children's report card: A survey of kids' well-being and roadmap for the future. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/portfolio-posts/20-report-card

7.  Esthappan, S., et al. (2019). Juvenile probation transformation. Urban Institute & Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/juvenile-probation-transformation
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Juvenile Arrests