Reliance on Incarcerating Youth Offenders Not Paying Off for States, Taxpayers or Kids, Report Finds

Posted October 4, 2011
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease noplaceforkids 2011

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 a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. The report doc­u­ments four decades of scan­dals and law­suits over abu­sive con­di­tions in juve­nile insti­tu­tions and rein­forces the grow­ing con­sen­sus among experts that the cur­rent incar­cer­a­tion mod­el pro­vides lit­tle pub­lic safe­ty ben­e­fit. Its release, at a time when states nation­wide are strug­gling with enor­mous bud­get deficits and look­ing for ways to trim spend­ing, also high­lights an emerg­ing trend in which at least 18 states have closed more than 50 juve­nile cor­rec­tions facil­i­ties over the past four years.

No Place for Kids: The Case for Reduc­ing Juve­nile Incar­cer­a­tion is the most com­pre­hen­sive recent analy­sis of research and new data on the effec­tive­ness and costs of juve­nile incar­cer­a­tion. The report con­cludes that there is now over­whelm­ing evi­dence that the whole­sale incar­cer­a­tion of juve­nile offend­ers is a failed strat­e­gy for com­bat­ing youth crime because it:

  • Does not reduce future offend­ing by con­fined youth: With­in three years of release, rough­ly three-quar­ters of youth are rear­rest­ed; up to 72%, depend­ing on indi­vid­ual state mea­sures, are con­vict­ed of a new offense.
  • Does not enhance pub­lic safe­ty: States which low­ered juve­nile con­fine­ment rates the most from 1997 to 2007 saw a greater decline in juve­nile vio­lent crime arrests than states which increased incar­cer­a­tion rates or reduced them more slowly.
  • Wastes tax­pay­er dol­lars: Nation­wide, states con­tin­ue to spend the bulk of their juve­nile jus­tice bud­gets – $5 bil­lion in 2008 – to con­fine and house young offend­ers in incar­cer­a­tion facil­i­ties despite evi­dence show­ing that alter­na­tive in-home or com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­grams can deliv­er equal or bet­ter results for a frac­tion of the cost.
  • Expos­es youth to vio­lence and abuse: In near­ly half of the states, per­sis­tent mal­treat­ment has been doc­u­ment­ed since 2000 in at least one state-fund­ed insti­tu­tion. One in eight con­fined youth report­ed being sex­u­al­ly abused by staff or oth­er youth and 42% feared phys­i­cal attack accord­ing to reports released in 2010.

Rough­ly 60,500 U.S. youth – dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly young peo­ple of col­or – are con­fined in juve­nile cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties or oth­er res­i­den­tial pro­grams on any giv­en night, accord­ing to an offi­cial nation­al count of youth in cor­rec­tion­al cus­tody con­duct­ed in 2007. That is more ado­les­cents than cur­rent­ly reside in cities like Bal­ti­more, MD and Nashville, TN.

The report also tracks a notable trend in recent years among a grow­ing num­ber of states that have shut­tered youth incar­cer­a­tion facil­i­ties and sub­stan­tial­ly shrunk the num­ber of con­fined youth, often prompt­ed by bud­get crises or abuse scan­dals. No Place for Kids high­lights six rec­om­men­da­tions for how state and local juve­nile jus­tice offi­cials can alter youth incar­cer­a­tion pat­terns and improve sys­tem out­comes, not­ing that the recent declines in youth con­fine­ment have not gen­er­al­ly been accom­pa­nied by com­pre­hen­sive reforms that max­i­mize both pub­lic safe­ty and pos­i­tive youth development.

The tra­di­tion­al approach of lock­ing up youth offend­ers whole­sale – even those with lim­it­ed his­to­ries of seri­ous or vio­lent offend­ing – has con­tin­ued for decades with­out any evi­dence that it helps kids or pro­tects the pub­lic,” says Bart Lubow, direc­tor of the Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and for­mer direc­tor of Alter­na­tives to Incar­cer­a­tion for New York State. This report high­lights the cru­cial chal­lenges fac­ing the youth cor­rec­tions field. Our hope is that the research will serve as a cat­a­lyst for devel­op­ing more effec­tive and effi­cient juve­nile jus­tice strategies.”

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