U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2013
4 pages
This report presents an overview of trends and issues in the effort to reduce the incarceration of youth while increasing the development and diversity of research-proven community-based programs for delinquent youth.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention show that youth confinement peaked in 1995 at 107,637 on a single day. Since then, the number of youth confined has declined by nearly 37,000 to 70,792. Despite this rapid decline, however, the United States still incarcerates a larger share of the youth population than any other developed country. Although the vast majority of confined youth are held in facilities planned for juveniles, a smaller but still substantial number of youth are held in adult correctional facilities. In addition, in every year for which data are available, the overwhelming majority of confined youth have committed nonviolent offenses, which makes them relatively low public-safety risks. Further, although the decline in the confinement of youth has occurred across all of the five largest racial groups, large disparities remain in youth confinement rates by race, with African-American youth being nearly five times more likely to be confined than their White peers. This report argues for the development of a continuum of high-quality alternatives to incarceration that supervise, sanction, and treat youth effectively in their homes and communities. This report's recommendations are to limit eligibility for correctional incarceration of youth; invest in promising alternatives to incarceration; adopt best practices for supervising delinquent youth in their communities; change budgets to reflect a diminishment in the use of incarceration in favor of community-based approaches; and establish small, treatment-oriented facilities for those who require confinement. A table shows the number of youth in confinement by States for 1997 and 2010. A listing of resources is included.