THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC the disproportionate impact by race has been well documented in areas such as health outcomes, remote work, and education. Now add another disparity: juvenile justice.
A report published Wednesday by the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board found much of the good news regarding juvenile delinquency. During COVID, far fewer teens came into contact with the juvenile justice system.
There was a 62% drop in new monthly commitments to Department of Youth Services facilities and a 40% drop in admissions to overnight arrests. Fewer minors were detained and fewer were on probation.
Part of the reduction is due to a concerted effort by state officials to keep children at home during the pandemic, rather than detaining them. Some of them are due to circumstantial factors. Teens were less likely to be surrounded by peers who pressured them to cause problems. There were no arrests in schools when schools were physically closed.
But the reduction was not even generalized. In May 2019, before the pandemic, 27% of the juvenile population detained were black and 45% Latino. The proportion of blacks in the system increased to 40% in July 2021. The share of the detained population that was Latin American rose to 55% in May 2020 at the start of the pandemic, then fell to 38% in May 2021. .
Perhaps most striking is the problem of a “small but large” group of young people described in the report who have been stranded in detention longer than necessary due to pandemic-related delays in the justice system. On average, young people were detained 19 days longer during the pandemic than before the pandemic. The report says these young people were disproportionately black and Latino, although it did not give exact numbers.
The report stresses that juvenile justice does not take place in a vacuum. Black and Latino families have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with factors that put young people at increased risk for delinquency. Financial stress affects the well-being of children, and surveys show that black and Latino families were more likely than white families to worry about their economic security. School disengagement also creates a risk of delinquency, and data shows that black and Latino students were much more likely than white students to have missed at least 10 days of school last year.
As Massachusetts recovers from the pandemic, the report says the risk of future delinquency is high. Many children face trauma, mental health issues, a lack of social activities, strained family situations, disengagement from school and substance abuse.
The report makes recommendations to address these issues – continue to divert youth from the criminal justice system, support community services and social programs, increase the availability of mental health and substance abuse treatment, and support crime prevention programs. in schools. The challenge will be to direct these services to black and Latino youth who clearly need them the most.