HARRISBURG, Pa. — Despite youth incarceration rates falling nationwide in the last few years, major racial disparities remain for kids in Pennsylvania’s detention facilities.

A report from The Sentencing Project revealed nationally, Black youth are more than five times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention facilities as their white peers, as of 2019.

The report showed Pennsylvania closed this gap by more than one-third between 2015 and 2019.

Marsha Levick, chief legal officer at the Juvenile Law Center, said the state’s overall rate of kids in detention custody is still above the national average, and argued there is much more work to be done to better serve young people in the justice system.

“It is beyond time that we really reexamine how we invest resources, and how we think about our kids in the justice system,” Levick asserted. “There’s a significant amount of research that the benefits of keeping children in their communities and closer to home also promote public safety.”

Pennsylvania has also cut the disparity between white and Latino youths in detention by 56% in recent years. Nationally, a Latino young person is 28% more likely to end up in detention than a white counterpart.

Josh Rovner, senior advocacy associate at The Sentencing Project and the report’s author, said one of the first steps in addressing these disparities is to look at the point of contact within the justice system where they emerge.

“The first disparity, the strongest one, is at the point of arrest,” Rovner explained. “And that’s not because youth of color are more likely to commit these offenses. It’s because youth of color live in communities that are vastly overpoliced.”

Some solutions in the report to help divert kids from the justice system included community service and counseling. Both can help young people avoid probation, which can lead to future incarceration.

Emily Scott