LITTLE ROCK — Arrests of young people are down across the country, and a new analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggests the coronavirus pandemic may be affecting juvenile court systems.
Youth incarceration rates in Arkansas vary widely by county. But in Washington County, Director of Juvenile Court Services Norma Orellana-Frisby said since 2013, her jurisdiction has pushed for community-based programs and outdoor activities as alternatives to detention. She said the county has shrunk the number of young people locked up by 50 percent in three years.
“We follow our risk assessment instrument as far as deciding who goes to detention. So, that really hasn’t been a big impact in our area,” Frisby said. “As far as referrals sent to juvenile court for formal procedures, like arraignments for misdemeanor offenses, I believe that that is going be a big reduction this year.”
The Casey Foundation report found the number of young people in local detention centers in March alone dipped by 24 percent across 30 states. It also revealed that 15 percent of jurisdictions nationwide had confirmed cases of COVID-19 in juvenile detention facilities, with more positive cases among staff than youths.
Frisby pointed out that a large volume of calls from school resource officers has disappeared, since the schools remain closed due to the pandemic.
“Because schools are not in session right now, some of those citation referrals are not being done because the kids are not in schools, and therefore the resource officers are not working the schools,” she said.
Nationwide, the report said, youth arrests continue to disproportionately involve young people of color. African-Americans make up 15 percent of the state’s general population, but according to Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, they comprise nearly 60 percent of young people in the care of the state’s Division of Youth Services.