A rare look at juvenile probation, using years-old data from Texas, suggests that too many children are placed for too long on probation, and that the practice could be scaled down without risking public safety. The new research by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Council of State Governments Justice Center used Texas juvenile records in a four-year span ending in 2017. It showed that almost half of youth that courts placed on probation were on probation for over a year, and about 8% were under supervision for over two years, even though many effective programs that can help youth can be completed in six months or less. Such programs can be made available without requiring youth to be under court supervision, the study noted.
Probation is U.S. juvenile courts’ most frequent response to delinquency, according to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In 2019, the most recent year for which complete data is available, almost a quarter-million delinquency cases nationally resulted in youth being placed on probation. Although national data isn’t available on length of supervision terms for youth, state and local data shows broad variations by jurisdiction, with some youth spending most of their teenage years under supervision. Although the Texas study's findings may not be representative of all youth on probation in the U.S., the study found that if young people on probation in Texas were arrested, this arrest happened relatively early in their supervision. About 1 in 3 youth were arrested for a new offense at some point while on probation, with most of those being arrested in the first five months and 9 in 10 arrests being for lower-level and nonviolent offenses; monthly arrest rates for new offenses decreased sharply over the first year and then averaged below 1% after that. The study showed white youth were less likely to receive more serious dispositions in Texas juvenile court than their Black or Hispanic counterparts.