Juvenile Incarceration

Publication Date:

Jul 01, 2016

The Child Trends databank of indicators related to child and youth well-being is no longer being updated so that we can focus on data tools and products core to the work of policymakers and other stakeholders, such as:

Additionally, we have a forthcoming interactive tool on childhood poverty we expect to release in late 2021.

Trends in juvenile incarceration

Rates of juveniles in residential placement have fallen for more than a decade. In 2015, 152 juveniles per 100,000 population (48,043 total) were in residential placements, compared with 356 per 100,000 in 1997. The rate fell roughly equally among whites, blacks, and Hispanics (55 to 70 percent). Over that same period, rates for Asian youth fell the most (88 percent), while rates for American Indians fell the least (47 percent) (Appendix 1).

Juveniles in Residential Placement per 100,000 Population, by Race and Hispanic Origin: Selected Years, 1997-2015

Differences by gender

Males are much more likely than females to be in residential placement, accounting for 85 percent of all juveniles in residential placement in 2015. This proportion has fluctuated, but in general has not changed since 1997 (Appendix 1).

Female adolescents are committed to facilities at higher rates than in some previous years, although the rate in 2015 was lower than the 20-year peak in 1996.[1] The majority of females in the juvenile justice system report having experienced physical, sexual, or emotional victimization.[2] Many females first enter the system as runaways, or for other status offenses (offenses not considered illegal for adults), and cite abuse at home as a primary reason for leaving.[3] Once in the system, they often do not receive adequate treatment and often have different needs than their male counterparts. In 2015, 12 percent of female adolescents in residential placement were there because of status offences, compared with 4 percent of male adolescents. However, this gap is shrinking: In 1997, 23 percent of females in residential placement were there because of status offences, versus 4 percent of males.

Differences by type of offense

Most juveniles in residential placement (95 percent in 2015) are there because of delinquency. The other 5 percent committed status offenses (behaviors that are illegal for underage persons but not for adults, such as running away, incorrigibility [i.e., “beyond the control of parents, guardians, or custodians”], and truancy) as their most serious offense.[4] In 2015, 27 percent of juveniles in residential placement had committed violent crimes as their most serious offense and 18 percent had committed property crimes.[5],[6] Only 2 percent had committed criminal homicide. Five percent had committed drug-related offenses, and 13 percent had committed disturbances to the public order (Appendix 2).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin*

In 2015, non-Hispanic Asian and white youth had the lowest rates of juvenile residential placement among males (38 and 138 per 100,000 population, respectively). Hispanic males had a rate of 237 per 100,000, followed by non-Hispanic American Indian males, at 384, and non-Hispanic black males, at 746.

As in the case of males, female non-Hispanic black and American Indian adolescents had the highest rates of residential placement (110 and 134 per 100,000, respectively, in 2015). Non-Hispanic white females were also less likely to be in residential placement (32 per 100,000 in 2015) than Hispanic females (44 per 100,000). Non-Hispanic Asian females were the least likely to be in residential placement, with a rate of 7 per 100,000.

Rates of residential placement for Hispanic, non-Hispanic Asian, and non-Hispanic black adolescents have been decreasing since at least 1997, while rates for non-Hispanic white adolescents began to decline in 2001. For non-Hispanic American Indian adolescents, rates increased from 1997 to 2001 and then declined through 2015, with the exception of a small uptick in 2006 (Appendix 1).

*Hispanic youth may be of any race. Estimates of white and black youth in this report do not include Hispanic youth.

State and local estimates

State estimates, through 2015, of the number of juveniles in residential placement or corrections facilities are available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center at: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/42-youth-residing-in-juvenile-detention-and-correctional-facilities#detailed/2/2-52/false/573,36,867,133,18,17,14,12,10,8/any/319,17599.

Additional subgroup data by state, through 2015, are available from the Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement data tool, available online at: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/asp/State_Comparison.asp.

How to reduce juvenile incarceration

Also see:

  • McCarthy, P., Schiraldi, V., & Shark, M. (2016). The future of youth justice: A community-based alternative to the youth prison model (NCJ 250142). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/250142.pdf.
  • National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. (2016). Strengthening our future: Key elements to developing a trauma-informed juvenile justice diversion program for youth with behavioral health conditions. Delmar, NY: Author. Retrieved from https://www.ncmhjj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/traumadoc012216-reduced-003.pdf.
  • Greenwood, P. (2008). Prevention and intervention programs for juvenile offenders. The Future of Children, 18(2), 185–10. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ815085.pdf.
  • Henggeler, S. W., & Schoenwald, S. K. (2011). Evidence-based interventions for juvenile offenders and juvenile justice policies that support them. Social Policy Report, 25(1), 3–20.
  • Lipsey, M. W., Howell, J. C., Kelly, M. R., Chapman, G., & Carver, D. (2010). Improving the effectiveness of juvenile justice programs: A new perspective on evidence-based practice. Washington, DC: Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University. Retrieved from http://cjjr.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ImprovingEffectiveness_December2010.pdf.

Data and appendices

Data source

Sickmund, M., Sladky, T. J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2017). Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement [Data tool]. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/.

Raw data source

OJJDP’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015. Retrieved from http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/series/241 .


Appendix 1

Appendix 2



Juveniles in residential placement are defined as those under age 18 who were assigned a bed in a juvenile residential custody facility in the United States as of the last Wednesday in October in a given year.

Rates are computed per 100,000 juveniles ages 10 through the upper age of each state’s juvenile court jurisdiction. The number of children younger than age 10 in residential placement is not large enough to warrant the inclusion of younger age groups in the denominator of rate calculations. States’ upper age limits of original juvenile court jurisdiction up through 2016 are available at https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04101.asp.

Data do not include those juveniles in adult facilities or those juveniles held exclusively in drug treatment or mental health facilities.


[1] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2017). OJJDP statistical briefing book. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/JAR_Display.asp?ID=qa05230

[2] McCormack, A, Janus, M., & Burgess, A (1986). Runaway youths and sexual victimization: Gender differences in an adolescent runaway population. Child Abuse and Neglect, 10, 387-395.

Rhodes, J. E., & Fischer, K (1993). Spanning the gender gap: Gender differences in delinquency among inner-city adolescents. Adolescence, 28, 879-889

Silbert, M., & Pines, M. (1981). Sexual child abuse as an antecedent to prostitution. Child Abuse and Neglect, 5, 407-411.

[3] Hoyt, S., & Scherer, D. G. (1998). Female juvenile delinquency: Misunderstood by the juvenile justice system, neglected by social science. Law and Human Behavior, 22(1), 81-107.

[4] More-specific definitions of incorrigibility vary by state. For more information see: U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (n.d.). Deinstitutionalization of status offenders promising practices nomination form. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/programs/DSOpromisingpractices2009.pdf

[5] The violent crime index includes criminal homicide, violent sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault.

[6] The property crime index includes burglary, theft, auto theft, and arson.