Juvenile Detention in Alaska, 1993

Juvenile Detention in Alaska, 1993

N.E. Schafer and Richard W. Curtis

Schafer, N. E. and Curtis, Richard W. (Fall 1994). "Juvenile Detention in Alaska, 1993." Alaska Justice Forum 11(3): 1, 5-7. Juveniles are detained for a variety of reasons in facilities of all types throughout Alaska. During 1993, there were 1552 detention events involving 1023 youths, who spent a total of 21,452 days in detention. This article analyzes these detention events using data collected during monitoring of Alaska's compliance with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Age, sex, and race of detained juveniles are examined, as are the types of facilities where juveniles were held and the offenses for which they were held.

In Alaska juveniles are detained for a variety of reasons in facilities of all types throughout the state. Some may have been arrested on criminal charges and are awaiting juvenile court hearings; others may have been detained for their own protection (e.g., under Title 47, which permits incarceration of both juvenile and adult inebriates for their own protection for up to twelve hours or until sober). Many are held for very brief periods; all must have a hearing within 48 hours. Those who are detained in adult facilities (jails and lockups) are usually released within hours to a responsible adult or, if a longer period of detention is warranted, they are transferred to a facility which detains only juveniles. This article provides a preliminary examination of 1552 instances of detention in Alaska during calendar year 1993, using the amount of time spent in detention as a basis for comparing different detention events.

The data for this study were collected by the Justice Center in the process of monitoring the state's compliance with the mandates of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The data, collected on behalf of the Division of Family and Youth Services, include the date and time of admission; date and time of release; the juvenile's date of birth, sex and race; and the reason for the detention (charge). This information was entered each time a juvenile was detained in a juvenile detention center or holdover facility or held formally in an adult jail or lockup. (Juveniles who were booked and released from adult facilities were not included in the data set.) The data missing from adult lockups are thought to be minimal, since many village lockups are rarely used to detain either adults or juveniles. Lockups which did report information accounted for only 45 detention events - 2.8 per cent of the total. We posit that the 48 non-reporting lockups would account for no more detention events than did the reporting lockups. (It is probable that they would actually account for fewer.)

Because of reports of crowding in detention units during 1993, we have used the admission/release time data to determine the number of days involved in detaining juveniles in Alaska. Our analysis uses detention length to compare a variety of factors in the data set.

A general picture of detention is provided in Table 1, indicating that 1552 detention events were recorded between January 1 and December 31, 1993. Names of juveniles were not included in the data set for reasons of confidentiality, but we were able to combine initials and birthdates (to which we added gender as a check) to determine the number of individuals involved in these instances of detention. We found that there were 1023 youths detained during 1993. Hence, many were detained at least twice. Indeed, only 716 youth had only one detention in 1993 (although some of these might have been detained in previous years); 178 experienced two detentions in 1993; 73 experienced three; 38, four; 10, five; one, six; 5, seven; and 2 accounted for nine detention events during the year. Since each detention event was recorded, it should be noted that two events would be recorded for a single juvenile who was transferred from an adult facility to a juvenile detention facility - the first in the records of the adult facility and the second in the records of the juvenile facility.

Table 1. Juvenile Detentions in Alaska by Event, 1993

From the data on date and time admitted and date and time released we computed the length of stay in hours for each detention, summed these, and divided by 24 to find that 1023 youth spent a total of 21,452 days in detention. The average length of stay for each instance of detention was 13.82 days, with a range from 0 to 267.7 days. Because the long range skews the distribution, we also provide the median length of stay per detention (1.9 days). This is the midpoint: half the detentions were longer and half were shorter.

Table 1 also describes detention length as related to the demographic variables of gender, age and race. (Some events are missing from totals because the gender or race was not recorded.) The data on gender show that 767 boys accounted for 1174 instances of detention while 234 girls accounted for 356. Boys account for 75 per cent of all detentions recorded and for 83 per cent of the days spent in detention. Age data reveal an interesting anomaly: fifteen-year-olds are the smallest group of individuals and account for the fewest detention events of all age categories, but their mean length of stay is considerably longer than that of the other age groups and their median is higher as well.

Forty-three per cent of detention events were accounted for by 462 white youth and 30 per cent were accounted for by Alaska Native youth. Racial data also exhibit an interesting anomaly: the detentions of the smallest racial categories (Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander) tend to be longer in duration than those of either whites or Alaska Natives. Though African-American youth account for only 8.5 per cent of all detentions recorded, they account for 10 per cent of the total number of days spent in detention. The median length of detention when black youth were involved was four days - a higher median than any other racial category and twice as high as the medians for whites and Alaska Natives. Our data provide no basis for explaining either the racial differences or those tied to fifteen-year-olds.

Where were the 21,452 detention days actually spent? In all, 35 facilities across the state reported detaining juveniles. As Table 2 shows, 92 per cent of detention days were spent in facilities whose responsibility it is to detain juveniles (detention centers and juvenile holdover facilities). Adult facilities (jails and lockups combined) recorded 118 detentions, all of which consumed only 33.2 days.

Table 2. Juvenile Detentions in Alaska by Type of Facility, 1993

Alaska's largest juvenile facility, McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage, recorded 791 detentions. Although this is only 51 per cent of the total number of detention events in the state (1552), these detentions consumed 61 per cent of the total detention days (13,043.2 of 21,452 days). It is therefore not surprising that McLaughlin experienced some crowding of its detention unit during 1993. The mean lengths of stay at both Bethel Youth Center and Johnson Youth Center in Juneau were longer than that at McLaughlin (16.5 days) and Johnson's median was greater as well. Johnson accounted for 13 per cent of the total detention days but only 10 per cent of total detention events. Fairbanks Youth Center's 3,130.57 detention days are less than 15 per cent of the total, yet Fairbanks recorded 17 per cent of the events. While the data do not provide any basis for explaining these regional differences, we might speculate that they can be accounted for by differences in decision-making and by differences in the kinds of reasons for which youth are detained.

It is important to our understanding of juvenile detention to know the reason for each instance of detention as reported. When more than one reason (charge) was given, we entered into our data only the most serious charge. Thus a detention which recorded a probation violation for an assault and possession of a controlled substance was entered as an assault.

We have categorized the reasons for these 1993 detention into several categories; some are conventional (offenses against persons, offenses against property), while others are not normally used in studies of offense behavior. These categories are listed in Table 3. We were interested in the number of detentions involving status offenses (behaviors which are illegal only because of one's youth) and in protective custody detentions because of federal guidelines.

Table 3. Length of Detention of Juveniles in Alaska by Reason for Detention, 1993

Although there has been a general perception that juveniles in Alaska are becoming increasingly violent, the detention data for 1993 show relatively few detentions for violence. Only 16.6 per cent of all detention events were for offenses against persons, a category that included assault (205 detentions), robbery (27 detentions), sexual assault (9 detentions), murder (7 detentions) and others. Detentions for these charges resulted in 4797.6 detention days, 22.3 per cent of all detention days. Although the mean length of stay for violent offenses was greater than that for property offenses, the median is slightly shorter.

Property offenses were the reason for 21.6 per cent of all detention events (N=333) and accounted for 21.5 per cent of total detention days. Seventy-five of these events were for theft and 100 for criminal mischief (often vandalism).

The category of public order offenses includes possession of a controlled substance (17 events) as well as disorderly conduct (5 events), weapons offenses, etc. These account for a very small proportion of the total number of events (5.9%) and consume an even smaller proportion of detention days (3.3%).

Status offenses, even though they include minor consuming alcohol, form a very small portion of total detention events. The Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage has found that Alaska juveniles who have been drinking are more likely to be detained under Title 47 (a protective custody category) than under delinquency statutes. This category, however, comprises only 8.2 per cent of all detention events and includes protective custody for mental reasons as well. Although Title 47 permits holding inebriates for up to 12 hours, both the mean and median for this offense are 6 hours, with a range of .017 to 2.6 days.

Probation violations account for a larger proportion of detention days than any other category analyzed (38.7%), although they account for only 23.5 per cent of all of the detention events. The median number of days for probation violations (the point at which half of the detentions are longer and half shorter) is considerably greater than that of any other of our categories. These detention events require some explanation and further analysis.

When a juvenile is detained for violation of probation, a specific reason may or may not be recorded in the data available to us. For the 362 detention events under discussion, no reason was provided for 152 events (41.9%). Of the remainder, 200 detentions (55.1%) were for technical violations (violations of the conditions of probation) and ten events were recorded with a new charge which was not specified. (These 362 events did not include 77 probation violation events where the charge was specified: these were included under the offense category appropriate to the charge.) We should note that a probation violation may include what would have been a criminal charge if it had come to the attention of police. A failed urinalysis test, for example, may result in a violation, but not in a charge of possession of a controlled substance.

Probation violators probably contribute to the group of individuals who accounted for more than one detention in 1993, because they have already been processed into the system for delinquent behavior and are by definition repeat offenders. Some, in fact, may be chronic offenders.

A juvenile who is detained for a probation violation (or for any reason) must have a hearing within 48 hours. At this arraignment the charges are presented and a date for a disposition hearing is set. If the youth is a chronic offender, is a danger to himself or others, or has a history of leaving placement, the probation officer may recommend that the youth be detained until disposition. Juveniles in detention must have a disposition hearing in thirty days - a period which can be continued under certain circumstances. First offenders, on the other hand, will not have a history and may be released, pending adjudication or disposition, to an adult in well under 48 hours. In all, a youth on probation might be detained for 32 days, a number which helps to explain the longer total, mean and median detention days in Table 3.

Though we have characterized probation violators as repeat, or even chronic, offenders it is difficult to determine how many individuals were responsible for the probation violations in 1993. We can determine from our data that for 179 juveniles a probation violation was the reason for their first detention in 1993 and that 77 of these were detained at least once more in 1993. Twenty-one of the 77 were detained three times during the year and 13 were detained four to nine times. However, the reasons for their subsequent detentions may or may not be continued violations of probation.

Two other categories are likely to have involved multiple detentions in 1993: the internal category and the warrant category. The category labeled internal comprises detention events based on reasons internal to the (juvenile) facility and includes medical transfers and transfers for programmatic reasons, which would result in an individual being logged in multiple times. (These 81 detention events appear to be the only ones over which detention center officials themselves might exert some influence.) The internal detentions consume only 4.2 per cent of all detention hours.

Warrants are issued after a juvenile has failed to do what the court has directed him or her to do. The warrant category includes failure to appear, traffic offenses, etc. (Warrants tied to probation violations have been included in the probation violation category.) Detention events based on warrants from the court consumed 1505.5 detention days in 1993, a considerable proportion of the total (7.0%).

This article has focused on the amount of time consumed by detaining Alaska juveniles in 1993: 1023 juveniles were held for a total of over 21,000 days. This figure may have value in assessing the use of resources within the juvenile justice system and for comparing the use of different facilities for different purposes. The use of detention length to compare detention by gender, age, race, etc. has identified some differentials which officials might want to explore. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to assess costs, it is clear that the total of 21,452 detention days does consume resources. If detention units are crowded, health and safety issues arise in addition to increased demand for resources. It can be noted that very few detention days were spent in adult facilities; hence, the state is essentially in compliance with that aspect of federal regulation which prohibits juveniles from being held in adult facilities.

Because there are other ways of examining detention in Alaska, it is our intention in a future article to examine trends in juvenile detention using five years of detention data.

N.E. Schafer is a professor at the Justice Center. Richard W. Curtis is a Justice Center research associate.