The United States persists in incarcerating children and youth despite overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness in steering them away from further system involvement.81 Although the number of youths arrested and incarcerated has declined significantly between 2000 and 2020, the decline is not spread equitably across all demographics. Children of color are especially vulnerable to overcriminalization and therefore overrepresentation on every front:

  • Of the 265,600 children arrested in the United States in 2021, 1 in 3 were Black children, though Black children constitute only 15% of the nation’s youth population.
  • Fully two-thirds (67%) of children in the juvenile justice system are children of color (see Table 35)
  • 41% of youth in custody (ex. juvenile justice and detention centers, jails and prisons) are Black. 82
  • Black youth are more likely to be in custody than White youth in every state but Hawaii.
  • The national youth placement rate of 114 per 100,000 masks a massive racial disparity. The Black youth placement rate of 315 per 100,000 eclipses the White youth placement rate of 72 per 100,000. 83
  • Only 7% of child arrests were for violent crimes.

"The State of America's Children 2023" (2023). Children's Defense Fund. Washington, DC.