Chapter 6: Juveniles Taken Into Custody

OJJDP has been collecting information on the number of juveniles held in detention and other facilities for more than 20 years. Data were gathered through the biennial Census of Public and Private Juvenile Detention, Correctional, and Shelter Facilities, better known as the Children in Custody (CIC) Census.

Data from CIC have had an enormous impact on juvenile justice policy. Findings from CIC in the 1970's showed that States were using secure facilities -- intended for serious delinquent offenders -- to hold status offenders. This led Congress to mandate that States participating in OJJDP's Formula Grants Program remove status offender and nonoffender juveniles from such settings. In the 1980's, CIC data indicated that minorities were disproportionately represented in secure placement facilities. This led Congress to require States to address disproportionate minority confinement when submitting plans to OJJDP in order to receive formula grants.

After using the same type of survey for more than 20 years, OJJDP consulted with juvenile justice experts, survey methodologists, practitioners, and facility personnel to determine if CIC was meeting the needs of the field. As a result, the Office concluded that CIC was not meeting these needs. With the help of the U.S. Bureau of the Census and a technical advisory board, OJJDP has developed a new survey that more accurately measures the numbers of juveniles in residential placement and describes the reasons for their placement. This new Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP) is replacing CIC. It is being implemented by the Census Bureau.

OJJDP tested the new survey in 1996, gathering data in a roster-type booklet format and by electronic means. The new method is expected to result in more accurate and useful data on the juvenile population while lessening the reporting burden for facilities responding to the survey. The Office funded the initial implementation of the new survey in 1997, including preparation, mailing, and processing of census forms. The first survey results are expected in the fall of 1998.

This chapter summarizes information about juveniles in custody from the most recent CIC survey, which was conducted in 1995. It includes data about arrest rates, court cases, types of offenses, and admissions to custody facilities. OJJDP anticipates that CJRP information will be available for the 1998 Annual Report.

According to the FBI, 2.1 million juveniles were arrested in the United States in 1995. This represents a 20-percent rise in juvenile arrest rates between 1985 and 1995. The largest percentage increases were for drug and weapons offenses. Males accounted for three-fourths of all juvenile arrests. However, the percentage increase in arrests for females was higher than the increase for males. White youth accounted for 69 percent of all arrests.

Juvenile courts handled approximately 1.7 million delinquency cases in 1995, a 45-percent increase from 1986. Seventy-eight percent of these cases involved males, but as in the arrest data, the percentage increase was higher for females. White youth constituted 66 percent of the delinquency court referrals while black youth were disproportionately represented; their referral rate was more than twice their representation in the general population.

Approximately 50 percent of the cases processed in juvenile courts were for property crimes and 20 percent were for violent offenses. Another 9 percent were drug cases and 18 percent were public order offenses. Two-thirds of all delinquency cases referred to the court were not adjudicated. Of those adjudicated, one-half were for property offenses. Once adjudicated, the majority of dispositions were to probation; 31 percent of the violent offense cases resulted in out-of-home placement.

Admissions to juvenile custody facilities increased 38 percent between 1985 and 1995. Youth admitted to juvenile and adult facilities reached their highest level of 939,000 in the latest available reporting period of 1995. The largest percentage of these admissions were to juvenile detention facilities.

CIC collects the most comprehensive data available on juvenile custody facilities in the United States. The Census Bureau surveyed approximately 3,000 facilities in 1995. Of these, 65 percent were privately operated. While only 15 percent of facilities were considered overcrowded, 45 percent of all youth admitted were placed in overcrowded facilities. The largest facilities, therefore, have the biggest crowding problems.

Of the 108,000 youth held in juvenile custody facilities on a given day in 1995, 83 percent were male; in addition, 40 percent were white, 39 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and 4 percent were from other minority groups. Thus, the racial composition of the population in juvenile custody facilities is completely different from the arrest or court population (where whites accounted for 69 percent of all arrests and 64 percent of delinquency court referrals). Black youth were greatly overrepresented in the custody population.

It is important to examine juvenile detention as a point of custody because it is typically used prior to adjudication and is often the gateway to further penetration into the system. The number of juveniles held in public detention centers on any given day increased 74 percent between 1985 and 1995, according to the latest available data. Males and minority youth were more likely to be detained across all offense categories.

Custody in a State juvenile correctional facility is the furthest penetration a youth can make into the juvenile justice system. In 1995, males constituted the vast majority of admissions (90 percent) to these facilities. Of all youth held (males and females), 44 percent were black, 39 percent were white, and the remainder were from other minority groups. Hispanic youth were admitted to State facilities at three times the rate of whites; blacks were admitted at seven times the rate of whites.

Property offenders constituted 38 percent of the population and violent offenders 28 percent, followed by public order, drug, and other offenses (each under 10 percent of the total population). A higher proportion of females than males were admitted for status offenses. Females generally were admitted for less serious offenses. On average, youth were held approximately 8 months in State facilities. Violent offenders had the longest lengths of stay.

Some youth were held in adult facilities. While they represent a relatively small proportion of all youth in custody, there was a 14-percent increase in the number of youth in adult jails between 1985 and 1995. The admission of youth to prison has also been increasing. In 1993, almost 6,000 offenders under 18 were admitted to prison; 97 percent were male and 65 percent were black. Violent offenders accounted for slightly less than one-half of youth admitted to prison.

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OJJDP Annual Report August 1998