New Guidelines Show How To Replace Youth Prisons With Community Services

Posted January 9, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newguidelinescloseyouthprisons 2017

The Nation­al Col­lab­o­ra­tion for Youth is offer­ing new guid­ance on clos­ing youth pris­ons. Beyond Bars: Keep­ing Young Peo­ple Safe at Home and Out of Youth Pris­ons offers a frame­work for juve­nile jus­tice admin­is­tra­tors, leg­is­la­tors, judges, non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions and youth advo­cates to dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduce the prac­tice of youth incar­cer­a­tion, pro­mote pub­lic safe­ty and restore a sense of belong­ing for young peo­ple in their homes and neighborhoods.

Beyond Bars advo­cates for trans­form­ing our approach by expand­ing com­mu­ni­ty capac­i­ty and resources. The report offers an orga­niz­ing tool for juris­dic­tions inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based con­tin­u­ums of care for young peo­ple at every point in the jus­tice sys­tem, from alter­na­tives to arrests to alter­na­tives to out-of-home place­ments. The lack of full ser­vices in com­mu­ni­ties is often used as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to incar­cer­ate or place young peo­ple in youth pris­ons or oth­er out-of-home set­tings, even when it would not oth­er­wise be necessary.

Read the report and learn more

Beyond Bars offers a play­book that juve­nile jus­tice pro­fes­sion­als and advo­cates have called for so often,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. It sug­gests com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to incar­cer­a­tion that hold kids account­able, but also pro­vide them with resources nec­es­sary to sup­port their growth and give them a sec­ond chance and new opportunity.”

The report, fund­ed by the Casey Foun­da­tion, builds on a call to action made by Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Patrick McCarthy in June 2015 when he chal­lenged states across the coun­try to close their youth pris­ons. McCarthy urged states to improve their exist­ing sys­tems by expand­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based and fam­i­ly-cen­tered pro­grams proven to help kids who have the most seri­ous problems.

The youth prison mod­el is past its expi­ra­tion date,” writes Shae­na Fazal, the nation­al pol­i­cy direc­tor for Youth Advo­cate Pro­grams, Inc. and the report’s author. This report is meant to per­suade peo­ple that com­mu­ni­ties, when prop­er­ly resourced, can care for young peo­ple — even those involved in the jus­tice sys­tem and with com­plex needs — with­out resort­ing to remov­ing young peo­ple from families.”

Core com­po­nents of a con­tin­u­um of care described in the report relate to edu­ca­tion — includ­ing cred­it recov­ery, reme­di­a­tion and gift­ed learn­ing — as well as safe places for young peo­ple to gath­er and engage in recre­ation; respite and sup­port for fam­i­lies with com­plex needs; eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty; vol­un­teer and paid men­tor­ing; and inter­ven­tions for sub­stance abuse, gang involve­ment and crises. To bring these com­po­nents togeth­er, a com­mu­ni­ty-based con­tin­u­um needs a mech­a­nism such as wrap­around plan­ning to assess the needs and build a ser­vice plan for each young per­son that has a good chance of working.

The report pro­files two coun­ties that are shift­ing funds towards com­mu­ni­ty-based resources and ser­vices. The exam­ples of Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio and Tar­rant Coun­ty, Texas — home to Tole­do and Fort Worth, respec­tive­ly — are illus­tra­tive because they use dif­fer­ent fund­ing approach­es to reach the same goal of reduc­ing their youth incar­cer­a­tion and grow­ing their com­mu­ni­ty resources.

Deb­o­rah Hodges, Lucas Coun­ty juve­nile court admin­is­tra­tor, acknowl­edges in the report that this takes hard work. Deten­tion and youth prison will always be the default,” she says. So if we don’t have alter­na­tives, and a full con­tin­u­um even for our tough­est kids, they are going to be locked up.”

Read more about replac­ing youth prisons

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