California cut its youth incarceration rate almost in half between 1997 and 2010, but the state still ranks 11th in the nation in the proportion of youth under age 21 it confines, according to a new report.

KIDS COUNT, a project of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports that California is part of a “dramatic decline in youth incarceration” across the nation, with rates dropping by 37 percent during that same time period. However, the United States still locks up a larger share of the youth population than any other developed country.

In California, 271 per 100,000 youth are incarcerated, compared to the national average of 225.

The decline occurred in California partly due to changes in state law “to explicitly prohibit commitments for less serious offenses,” according to KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot: Youth Incarceration in the United States, released last week. Senate Bill 81, passed in 2007, says that only youth who commit what are considered serious and violent felonies by adult standards can be sent to state youth correctional facilities, though they still can be sent to juvenile hall or camps and ranches.

Most youth are jailed for nonviolent offenses, and “this decline has not led to a surge in juvenile crime,” noted the report.

Racial disparities are also still pronounced in the national figures. African American youth are five times more likely to be confined than their white peers, the report found. Native American and Latino youth were between two and three times more likely.


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