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Data about Youth Arrests

This page provides data on arrests of youth in Massachusetts, as well as youth who are held in custody overnight before being brought to court.

Table of Contents

Youth Arrest Data Trends

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Annual number of youth arrests in Massachusetts since fiscal year 2010. Youth arrests in Massachusetts have declined each year for at least the past 10 years, from 11,042 in fiscal year 2010 to 1,908 in fiscal year 2020. (Download this data)

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A youth’s first interaction with the juvenile justice system typically occurs with a police officer. Police have a variety of ways of responding to youth they believe have committed a crime:

  • Making an arrest, which means the youth was taken into police custody ("custodial arrest") because the police officer found probable cause that a felony has occurred, has directly observed a misdemeanor offense, or was responding to a court-ordered arrest warrant. 
  • Issuing a summons to appear in court, which notifies a youth of the alleged offense and orders them to appear in court. While a youth is not taken into police custody, a summons is a formal entrance into the juvenile justice system.  
  • Diverting the youth, which may include informal responses outside of the juvenile justice system. For example, an officer can give the youth a warning. 

Youth arrest data in these visualizations only includes custodial arrests. Many police departments will issue youth a summons to appear in court rather than making a custodial arrest for less serious offenses. However, the use of summons is not consistently reported by all police departments; as a result, data on summons is not included in these visualizations for the sake of consistency across jurisdictions and departments.

This first visualization shows the total number of youth arrests made each fiscal year, starting with fiscal year 2010. (If you are interested in totals by calendar year, that information can be found in the Demographics and Geographic Breakdowns section, below). Juvenile arrests have been declining for at least the past 10 years. This decrease cannot be attributed to any single factor, but rather a collection of initiatives, agency policy and practice changes, reform legislation and public attitudes.

Youth Arrest Data: Demographic and Geographic Breakdowns

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Estimated percentages for the race of all Massachusetts youth, ages 12 to 17, in 2019 (Download this data; Source: EZAPOP)

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"Demographics of youth arrests", below, shows total arrests and the demographics of the youth who were arrested over time. From the drop down menu, you can select a demographic variable (race/ethnicity, gender, or age) of interest and see the breakdown of that variable in youth arrests over time. You can also look at data by calendar year or fiscal year, and look at either the total number of arrests in a given category, or the percent change in arrests in that category year over year .

You can also look at the demographic data over time of youth arrested in cities with a population over 50,000 by selecting a city from the drop down menu. 

As a point of comparison, this page also includes a visualization showing the racial distribution for all Massachusetts youth (not just those in the juvenile justice system) based on U.S. Census data. 

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Statewide youth arrests are shown by race, gender, and age group for each fiscal year since 2010. Arrests by demographics can be viewed for selected cities with a population above 50,000. Beginning in FY19, youth under 12 can no longer be arrested or prosecuted in the juvenile justice system as a result of "An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform." (Download this data)

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Hover over a city/town in the map below to see total custodial arrests between 2009-2020. Click on the city/town on the map, or choose it from the drop down menu on the right, to see how many custodial arrests occurred by calendar year. For an explanation of where this data comes from and how to interpret "Zero" and "No Data" results for a given town or year, see the About the Data section, below.

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Custodial arrests between 2009-2020 are shown on a heat map of Massachusetts. Click on the map or the drop down menu to the right to select city/towns to view total custodial arrests or the percent changes between calendar years. (Download this data)

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Youth Arrest Data: Offense Type

The visualizations below show what types of offenses youth were arrested for, and how that has changed over time. Offense types are categorized based on the NIBRS reporting standards.

Prior to November 2019, the first visualization includes data for all cities and towns except Boston. Data for the City of Boston appears in this visualization from November 2019 forward. Historical data for the City of Boston is in the second visualization. Because the City of Boston reported its data through a different system (until November 2019), the offense categories used are different. 

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Statewide youth arrests are shown by offense types for each fiscal year since 2010. Data for the City of Boston is included beginning in November 2019. Offense types include person, property, society and other. Arrests or percent changes between fiscal or calendar years can be selected. (Download this data)

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Before fiscal year 2018, Boston reported arrests separate from the NIBRS system. Youth arrests in Boston have generally trended down since fiscal year 2010, from 1,297 in fiscal year 2010 to 429 in fiscal year 2018. Data for 2019 is for January 1 - October 31 only. Arrest offense types can be typed into the text box (press 'enter' after adding your text) or selected from the table to see trends over time. (Download this data)

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Overnight Arrest Data Trends

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Annual number of youth overnight arrests in Massachusetts since fiscal year 2015. Youth overnight arrests in Massachusetts have declined each year for at least the past 5 years, from 1,982 in fiscal year 2015 to 639 in fiscal year 2020. (Download this data)

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An Overnight Arrest (ONA) occurs when a youth has been arrested by the police (either on a new offense or an active warrant) when court is not in session (i.e. outside of business hours) and is held in a Department of Youth Services (DYS) ONA facility overnight or until the next court day. These facilities vary on security levels and may be operated by DYS or other contracted providers. By federal law, a juvenile cannot not be held in a police lock-up for more than six hours.

Overnight Arrest Data: Demographic and Geographic Breakdowns

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Estimated percentages for the race of all Massachusetts youth, ages 12 to 17, in 2019 (Download this data; Source: EZAPOP)

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"Demographics of overnight arrests to DYS", below, shows total overnight arrest admissions and demographics over time. From the drop down menu, you can select a demographic variable (race/ethnicity, gender, or age) of interest and see the breakdown of that variable in youth overnight arrests over time. 

You can also look at data by calendar year or fiscal year, and look at either the total number of overnight arrests in a given category, or the percent change in overnight arrests in that category year over year .

As a point of comparison, this page also includes a visualization showing the racial distribution for all Massachusetts youth (not just those in the juvenile justice system) based on U.S. Census data. 

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Statewide overnight youth arrests are shown by race, gender, and age group for each fiscal year since 2015. Beginning in FY19, youth under 12 can no longer be arrested or prosecuted in the juvenile justice system as a result of "An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform." (Download this data)

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The visualizations below show where youth who are arrested and held overnight are from. The first visualization shows where youth reside (home county). The second shows where a youth was arrested (sending county).

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A heat map shows annual overnight arrests by home county (where the youth resides) and sending county (where the youth was arrested). Sending county uses the Massachusetts Juvenile Court jurisdictions of 11 divisions across the state: combining Franklin and Hampshire counties, and Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties along with the town of Plymouth. (Download this data)

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Overnight Arrest Data: Offense Types

The visualizations below show what types of offenses youth with an overnight arrest admission were arrested for, and how that has changed over time. 

You can also look at data by calendar year or fiscal year, and look at either the total number of overnight arrests in a given category, or the percent change in overnight arrests in that category year over year .

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Statewide overnight youth arrests are shown by offense type for each fiscal year since 2015. (Download this data)

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About the Data

Data Obtained From:

Massachusetts police departments submit arrest data to the FBI in accordance with a federal reporting system called the “National Incident- Based Reporting System (NIBRS).” This data is aggregated, analyzed and reported out by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS).

Most major cities and towns report their arrest data via NIBRS. Until recently, Boston provided their data utilizing summary reporting. Data on arrests by the Boston Police Department seen here was collected and reported out by the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). (As of October 2019, Boston began reporting to NIBRS.) Data on arrests by the Lawrence police department is unavailable, however, in January of 2020, Lawrence did begin reporting arrests in accordance with NIBRS and will be available in future reports.

If a city or town is listed as having "zero" youth arrests in a given year, it means that the city or town is on record as having reported data to NIBRS that year, but no arrests of individuals under 18 were included in that data. If a city or town is listed as having "No Data" (at all or for a given year), that means that there is no record of that city or town reporting data to NIBRS that year. In some cases this is because the city/town did not file a report with NIBRS; in other cases, it may be that there were no arrests in that town that year to report. 

Overnight arrest data comes from the Department of Youth Services.

Definitions:

Calendar year: From January 1 through December 31 of the year listed.

Diversion: Any program that allows youth who commit an offense to be directed away from more formal juvenile justice system involvement. In the context of youth arrests, diversion means giving a youth a warning or referring them to a program rather than making an arrest or issuing a court summons. 

Felony: Any serious crime which, if committed by an adult, could be punished by incarceration in state prison.

Fiscal year: From July 1 through June 30 of the year listed. 

Gender: The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) reports with the following options: Male or Female. Data collection for gender is officer-observed.

DYS reports with the following options: Male or Female. Youth are asked to self-identify.

Misdemeanor: A less serious crime such as trespassing or shoplifting.

Non-municipal law enforcement agency: Police that do not report to a city/town, but rather certain institutions. For example, the MBTA transit police and UMass campus police.

Offense Against Person: Crimes in which the victim is always a person. Arrest offense types are categorized based on the NIBRS reporting standards

Offense Against Property: Crimes in which the objective is obtaining money, property or some other benefit. Arrest offense types are categorized based on the NIBRS reporting standards

Offense Against Society: Crimes which are activities that society prohibits. They are generally victimless crimes in which property is not the objective. Arrest offense types are categorized based on the NIBRS reporting standards.  

Probable cause: A legal term meaning that there is more evidence to show that a crime has been committed than there is to show that a crime has not been committed.

Race/Ethnicity: The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) reports with the following options: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Unknown. Ethnicity can be reported as Not Hispanic or Latino, Hispanic or Latino, or Unknown.

DYS reports with the following options: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Chooses not to self-identify, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, White, Multiracial (if more than one selected). Ethnicity is self-reported – “Yes” or “No”— as Hispanic.

Due to the small numbers of youth, individuals in the following race categories are reported in "Other" in these visualizations: American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Unknown race categories.

In these visualizations, youth who are identified as Hispanic/Latino and any other race are categorized as "Hispanic/Latino." 

Definitions for juvenile justice terms adapted from "Kids and the Law: A User's Guide to the Juvenile Court" 4th ed. by Rebecca Pries, LMHC and Carol Rosensweig, Esq. Click here for an electronic copy and more information.

Definitions for data reporting terms from each reporting agency.

Additional Resources

Date published: November 2, 2020
Last updated: September 29, 2021
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