Two kindergarteners in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, did their best to fight, throwing weak punches at an older, much taller boy who had insulted one of their mothers.
Police, after viewing the fight online, could not determine which boys were part of these mundane events, but arrested 11 other children – all black and all in elementary school – who were believed to be there and have watched the fight unfold.
According to The Sentencing Project, the children, some of them in handcuffs, were brought to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center. Authorities put them through an indefinite “screening system” that determined some should be locked up.
In Rutherford County, about half of the children arrested are detained.
According to Rutherford County Judge Donna Scott Davenport, who approved the detentions, “Being held at our facility is no picnic at all. It’s not supposed to be. It is the consequence of an action.
The children allege that “acting” – watching a fight and not breaking it up – is not a crime in Tennessee.
But it fits nicely with new data from the Sentencing Project, which found that youth detentions and enlistment revealed stark racial and ethnic disparities.
Youth of color encounter police more often than their white peers and are disproportionately arrested despite modest differences in behavior that cannot explain the magnitude of disparities in apprehension, report titled ‘Too Many Locked Doors’ finds .
Incarceration disparities begin with arrests but increase at every touchpoint along the justice system continuum, the authors of the 27-page report found.
In about a quarter of delinquency cases during the decade, a young person was detained before trial.
Additionally, the authors determined that children of color are more likely to be detained than their white peers when arrested.
Despite the traditional use of detention by states and counties when responding to youth misconduct and offenses, the scope and impact of youth incarceration in the United States is not fully understood, and traditional counts underestimate its magnitude.
“Whenever juvenile courts decide to confine a young person, even for short stays, devastating, lifelong consequences can result,” said Josh Rovner, senior advocacy associate and author of the new report.
“Understanding the full extent of child incarceration is critical to protecting young people and ensuring equal justice for young people of color,” Rovner noted in a press release.
The Sentencing Project said the report offers a fresh look at national juvenile court data, such as the frequency of youth detention after encounters with law enforcement and out-of-home placements. after the court hearings. More than one in four youths are detained immediately upon arrest, a ratio that has worsened slightly over the past decade.
In 2019, authorities recorded nearly 200,000 cases of young people detained during arrest, often for less than two or three weeks. In addition, more than 55,000 times, young people have been placed out of their homes after their hearings.
Every two years, a one-day count is taken to give an overview of the extent of youth incarceration; this count neglects more than four out of five cases of abduction of a child or an adolescent from his home.
“Too Many Locked Doors” offers a more comprehensive view of youth incarceration.
According to the report, overall, there are far fewer young people in custody and detention than a decade ago, mainly due to a drop in juvenile delinquency and arrests.
However, when American children and adolescents are arrested, the juvenile justice system too often holds and incarcerates them.
Additionally, young people of color face even harsher treatment than their white peers.
The report includes policy recommendations to reduce the confinement of young people, such as eliminating the detention of young children and those who have committed minor crimes.
As examples of the systemic underrepresentation of detained youth in a day’s tally of those detained or incarcerated, the report notes:
• Thirty-one youth charged with drug offenses are detained for each offense measured in a day’s count.
• Twenty-five young people accused of public order offenses are detained for each measured in the count of a day.
• Seventeen youths charged with property offenses are detained for each one measured in a day’s count.
• Eleven youths charged with offenses against the person are detained for each measured in a day’s count.
“To their detriment, youth of color are treated differently by juvenile courts than their white peers,” the authors wrote.
“They are detained and committed more frequently in all offense categories.
“Detentions are often brief and unnecessary, except insofar as they are harmful. Worse still, disparities in detention have grown. Decisions to commit to out-of-home placement, the harshest sentence the juvenile system can offer, most often hurt young people of color.
Click here to read the full report.