It’s a split-second decision.

While browsing the aisles, a kid slips something into her pocket. Or, after school, he throws a punch without thinking about what comes after.

But what’s coming are life-altering consequences.

Whether it’s a juvenile misdemeanor or offense, students have to face the reality that part of — or even the remainder — their youth will be under community supervision. 

That’s a reality a disproportionate amount of Black students face every day as they’re funneled into the carceral system 

With probation nipping at the heels of Black children, are the sentences being doled out as effective as the juvenile justice system claims them to be? According to a new Pew Charitable Trust study, the answer is no. 

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and Pew researchers analyzed data on 33,128 youth adjudicated in juvenile court and placed on probation in Texas between 2013 and 2017. Almost half — 15,362 — of the youth were on probation for more than one year. 

But the researchers found “that long community supervision terms for youth in the juvenile justice system may have diminishing public safety benefits.”

Treated Like a Criminal Despite Good Behavior  

According to the analysis, “Most young people who have not been arrested early on in probation (within the first six months) are unlikely to be arrested for a new offense later.” Pews researchers wrote that this suggests “that keeping these youth under supervision may be an inefficient use of resources.”

However, after the first 10 months on probation, there were more new arrests for technical violations, like not attending school or program (827 arrests) than for new offenses (728 arrests). Research has shown that technical violation arrests may actually increase subsequent offending.

For some youth, about 1 in 4 (23%, or 7,495 youth) remained on probation into a second year despite having no arrests during the first year of supervision. Youths assessed as low risk to re-offend were most likely to be held on probation the longest — despite engaging in no new criminal behavior, even after two full years of being on probation without arrest. 

Probation continues to serve as the juvenile courts’ most frequent response to delinquency, even for those who don’t recommit offenses, according to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

What exactly does this mean for students? 

School-to-Juvie-to-Prison Pipeline

Numerous studies on over-policing students of color and how it contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline show Black and Brown youths are disproportionally placed in the juvenile system. Many of them remain there until adulthood, despite not committing a new offense. 

Across the country, research also shows that youth of color are more likely than white youth to be referred to the juvenile justice system, are less likely to receive diversion opportunities, and are more likely to receive more severe sentencing, even when coming from similar backgrounds and offense histories as their counterparts. 

Black youth were 1.8 times as likely as white youth to get arrested for a new offense while on probation, only intensifying the possibility of becoming part of the pipeline to prison. 

Although this analysis is specific to Texas, policymakers across the U.S. can use it as a means to re-evaluate if these lengthier probation periods are helping or harming future generations and helping reach public safety goals. 

Pew’s researchers concluded that policymakers nationwide should “ask for and review data from their court and juvenile justice agencies to determine if young people are remaining on probation for longer periods of time than is necessary to achieve rehabilitative or public safety goals.” 

If it turns out that’s the case, Pew suggests that decision-makers should create policies that align the duration of probation “with the time frames that research and effective treatment programming support.”

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