The incarceration rate for juvenile offenders has fallen to the lowest level since the federal government began tracking it in 1997, a change brought on by a combination of falling crime rates and forward-thinking criminal justice reforms.
Over the past generation, there has been a 60 percent drop in the rate at which juvenile offenders whose cases have been adjudicated are confined to residential facilities in the juvenile justice system. Whereas about 1 in 400 youths were committed to juvenile justice facilities in 1997, only 1 in 1,000 were in 2015. The change has been remarkably widespread: The commitment rate dropped in 48 of the 50 states.
As crime has decreased over the past 20 years, arrest rates have dropped by a third, with the largest drop being among the young. This naturally translates into fewer juveniles being committed to correctional facilities.But the juvenile justice system hasn’t been merely a windsock benefiting passively from falling crime. In state after state, lawmakers have increasingly focused confinement on violent and chronic juvenile offenders. This reduces confinement directly in the short term and may have an even more important effect over time.