Too many kids, especially youth of color, spend their days locked up in detention, youth prisons, residential mental health facilities and group homes—away from the support of family, friends and other community members.

Research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that youth incarceration has decreased over the years. The number of youth 17 or younger “incarcerated in all U.S. adult prisons or jails declined from 2008 to 2021,” and the “percentage of the total prison population who were youth declined from 0.9% in 2002 to 0.3% in 2021.” Additionally, as The Sentencing Project noted, “juvenile placements fell 59%” between 2011 and 2021.

However, The Sentencing Project also explained that despite the overall decrease, “racial and ethnic disparities in youth incarceration and sentencing persist.” Citing data from the Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, The Sentencing Project explained that in 2019, “the white placement rate in juvenile facilities was 72 per 100,000 youth under age 18. By comparison, Black youth were 4.4 times as likely to be incarcerated (315 per 100,000); Tribal youth were 3.2 times as likely (236 per 100,000); and Latinx youth were 27% more likely (92 per 100,000).”

These numbers are troubling. To give young people facing complex issues a better chance at living successful lives, we need to reduce our youth justice and child welfare systems’ reliance on incarceration and residential placements for treatment and care.

The more we can keep young people out of the system, the better off we will be as a society. Mass youth incarceration is a serious issue that has widespread individual, familial and societal consequences.

There Are Alternatives That Work

The solution to mass youth incarceration is not to add more jail or prison beds. Instead, the solution is rooted in carving out alternative paths, which also applies to kids placed by child welfare and behavioral health systems in residential care and treatment facilities.

Examples of alternative solutions in the legal system include diversion programs, community service opportunities and probation that help people avoid incarceration.

The science is clear: The brain takes until the mid-to-late 20s to fully develop. Young people have a better chance of healthy development in community settings than behind bars.

Read the full article about youth incarceration and residential care by Gary Ivory at Forbes.