A report released by a criminal-justice advocacy organization highlights a sharp drop in the number of incarcerated youth over two decades — a trend seen nationwide and in the Garden State.

"What the data show are long-term declines in youth offending that have led to long-term declines in youth incarceration, and I think that's something we can all celebrate," Josh Rovner, director of youth justice for The Sentencing Project, told New Jersey 101.5.

On a typical day in the year 2000, which is considered to be the peak year for youth incarceration, the number of minors held in juvenile justice facilities nationwide was recorded at just under 109,000. In 2020, that number was 25,000, the report notes.

The 2020 one-day count, which was taken in October, was also 30% less than 2019's figure, but much of that sharp drop likely had to do with pandemic restrictions and precautions.

As of 2019, the Garden State was recording one of the lowest youth placement rates in the country — 58 per 100,000, compared to a national average of 114. The rate per 100,000 was 220 in New Jersey in 2001, Rovner said.

The report also records a sizeable drop in the rate of youth arrests over the years — from more than 8,000 arrests per 100,000 in the mid-1990s, to around 2,000 per 100,000 towards the end of last decade — and a significant drop in the number of people under the age of 18 who were held in an adult jail.

Despite the progress, racial disparities persist, the report shows. In 2019, Black youth were more than four times as likely to be held in a juvenile facility than their white peers. In New Jersey, the gap is about four times wider, Rovner said.

"The sharp declines in youth arrests and incarceration demonstrate the possibilities for similar success for the adult population, as well," the report says. "However, the persistent racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system highlight the need to address the sources of those disparities wherever they emerge."

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