Incarcerated Youth In Crisis



“The coronavirus has laid bare gaping disparities in our society. It isn’t impacting us equally—death rates among Black and brown people, poor people — are much higher. Social distancing isn’t possible in prisons, jails and detention facilities. This is a humanitarian and public health crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before.”
Mishi Faruqee, National Field Director, Youth First Initiative

Dear Friends,

Our nation’s system of juvenile justice is both shocking and shameful:

  • The U.S. incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world. On an average day, there are at least 48,000 youth confined in facilities as a result of juvenile or criminal justice involvement.
  • Each year, approximately 500,000 youth churn through youth detention centers. Around 40% are held in private, for-profit facilities.
  • African-American youth are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth.
  • At least 15% of those in residential placements are girls. Native American girls are 4 times more likely to be incarcerated than white girls.
  • States spend over $5 billion per year on youth prisons. Their closed nature make young people vulnerable for abuse. A survey documented that many incarcerated youth have been sexually victimized.

Incarceration is the most expensive and least effective response to youth crime. And, it doesn’t make us collectively safer. When youth incarceration in Washington, D.C. and New York City was substantially reduced, youth crime rates went down rather than up.

Last week, more than 300 lawyers, family members, advocates and service providers from across the country came together to exchange strategies and resources to protect incarcerated youth from Covid 19. This video conference was organized by juvenile justice leaders including two Art for Justice Fund grantee partners, Performing Statistics and Youth First Initiative. They’ve contributed a social media toolkit that can be used to urge policymakers to take action and the #FreeOurYouth advocacy campaign at Please participate and let your voice be heard.

Advocacy demands include:

  • Free youth who can be cared for in their homes and communities (including those who have scheduled release dates within 90 days) and prioritize the release of those who are medically vulnerable
  • Make changes to conditions of confinement to protect the health and human rights of youth who remain in locked facilities, including provision of mental and physical health resources
  • Every youth justice system should produce a coronavirus response plan to effectively protect youth and staff
  • Reduce compliance-focused community supervision requirements, such as allowing check-ins by phone and video
  • Eliminate incarceration for technical and non-criminal violations (e.g., missed appointments)
  • Increase investment in the long-term assets that make communities safer and healthier, including affordable housing, quality education and a living wage
mother and teenage child hugging
Graphic created by Performing Statistics combining an image made by youth in their workshops with a quote from a family directly impacted by the Covid19 crisis.

We’ll continue to share updates from colleagues on the front lines of ending mass incarceration during the coronavirus pandemic. For more information about Art for Justice Fund’s grantee partners, please contact

With gratitude to those taking action and those supporting this urgent work.

The Art for Justice Team