According to Child Trends: Spending time in prison or jail can have profound effects on a young person’s future.  High rates of recidivism mean that many youth, once in the prison system, will stay there for significant portions of their lives. Up to one-third of incarcerated youth return to jail or prison within a few years after release. However, some positive life experiences, including employment, marriage, parenthood, job stability, and high school graduation are associated with a successful turnaround in young adulthood. There are particular concerns that certain sub-groups of youth are disproportionately incarcerated. These disparities may also be reflected in arrests, court representation, convictions, or sentencing.

Youth who have been incarcerated experience diminished income in comparison with their non-incarcerated peers.  In addition, they may suffer earnings losses of between 10 and 30 percent for up to ten years after their release. Economic hardship, in turn, is associated with lower levels of mental well-being, physical health, social attachments, and a lower life expectancy.

Given these negative outcomes, it is especially troubling that there are disproportionate rates of imprisonment among young, already disadvantaged, minority men.  According to one estimate, on a typical day in 2000 approximately one in three young, black, male high school dropouts were in prison or jail.

The estimated total number of young adults ages 18 to 29 in prison or jails increased steadily from 745,200 in 1999, to 813,600 in 2002. It rose to a high of 865,400 in 2006, and then began to decline, most markedly in 2009. As of 2010, the population was 779,700. – A much higher percentage of male youth are in prison or jail than are female youth. Among youth ages 18 to 19 in 2010, men were almost 16 times more likely than women to be in jail or prison (1.5 percent of men, and 0.1 percent of women). Among youth ages 20 to 24 in 2010, men were 11 times more likely than women to be in jail or prison (2.8 percent of men, and 0.3 percent of women). This gap had been growing steadily smaller until 2010, when it increased. – There are stark racial disparities in the population of incarcerated youth. Among the estimated 717,800 men ages 18 to 29 that were incarcerated at midyear 2010, 37 percent (290,100) were black and 23 percent (180,400) were Hispanic. Among men, a higher proportion of blacks are incarcerated at any age than are men of other races. For example, in 2010, among men ages 20 to 24, 8.0 percent of blacks were incarcerated, followed by 3.3 percent of Hispanics and 1.3 –

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