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Report calls for sharply reducing juvenile incarceration

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 1:19 AM EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The report says locking up juvenile offenders is not paying off
  • It costs states an average of $88,000 per youth, the report says
  • Report: Moving young offenders out of detention facilities does not cause crime increases
  • In Texas, when authorities cut jailed youth population, juvenile crime fell by 10%

Washington (CNN) -- Locking juvenile offenders behind bars is costly and largely ineffective, according to a report released Tuesday by an advocacy group that favors alternatives to youth detention.

The report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation examined data from the past four decades and found that removing juveniles from detention facilities in cash-strapped states has not caused crime rates to jump.

"Numerous states have closed facilities or lowered correctional populations, reaping significant savings for taxpayers without any measurable increase in youth crime," the report found.

The report's researchers found, for example, that in Texas, since 2007 when authorities began to decrease the jailed youth population, juvenile crime fell by 10% and juvenile arrests fell by 9%.

Locking up juvenile offenders in correctional facilities costs states about $88,000 a year per youth, a new study says.
Locking up juvenile offenders in correctional facilities costs states about $88,000 a year per youth, a new study says.

Locking up juvenile offenders in correctional facilities, which costs states a yearly average of $88,000 per youth, is not paying off from a public safety, rehabilitation or cost perspective, according to the report.

The report appears to reflect a growing consensus on the issue of juvenile incarceration. The Justice Department Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provides what it calls a "model program guide" to communities, supporting a series of alternatives to traditional incarceration.

The government guide says youths could be committed to a wide variety of residential programs including out-of-home placement in a camp-like setting, or may be eligible for an alternative place such as community confinement.

A similar approach is advocated by Colorado-based "Blueprints for Violence Prevention." Blueprints has studied which programs work and provides resources to governments and organizations on choosing how to cope with juvenile criminals.

The Casey Foundation authors acknowledge some states closing juvenile facilities are not putting those saved funds into alternative in-home or community-based programs that they believe can provide equal or better results inexpensively.

The authors say the state of Virginia, for example, has shown a tougher approach to juvenile crime. However, Anne Holton, former juvenile court judge in Richmond (and wife of former Gov. Tim Kaine) said she noted a significant drop in incarcerations over the past decade, and indicated a growing spectrum of political views supports alternatives to jail.

The Texas-based think tank Right on Crime agrees incarceration needs to be meted out carefully to juveniles.

"When applied in cases where it is unnecessary it is less effective at reducing recidivism and rehabilitating offenders and more expensive for taxpayers," the Right on Crime website says.

The Casey report notes that the roughly 60,000 jailed youths nationwide are disproportionately young people of color. The Casey Foundation describes itself as a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.

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