Early this morning the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the report, “No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration.” This excellent document examines the detrimental impacts of America's over-reliance on incarceration of youth, and will likely help to catalyze a more coordinated national movement toward reform.
To download a copy of the full report, I encourage you to please visit: www.aecf.org/noplaceforkids.
Combining research, data, and testimony, the report’s author Richard A. Mendel has identified six major problem areas and six priorities for reform:
Dangerous America’s juvenile corrections institutions subject confined youth to intolerable levels of violence, abuse, and other forms of maltreatment. Nearly 50 percent of states have been sued in the last decade alone for persistent maltreatment in at least one of their institutions. One in eight confined youth reported being sexually abused by staff or other youth and 45 percent feared physical attack according to reports released in 2010.
Ineffective The outcomes of correctional confinement are poor. Recidivism rates are almost uniformly high, Within three years of release, roughly three-quarters of youth are rearrested; up to 72 percent, depending on individual state measures, are convicted of a new offense. States which lowered youth confinement rates the most saw a greater decline in juvenile violent crime arrests than states which increased incarceration rates or reduced them more slowly. Incarceration in juvenile facilities depresses youths’ future success in education and employment.
Unnecessary A substantial percentage of youth confined in youth corrections facilities pose minimal risk to public safety.
Obsolete Scholars have identified a number of interventions and treatment strategies in recent years that consistently reduce recidivism among juvenile offenders. None require—and many are inconsistent with—incarceration in large correctional institutions.
Wasteful Most states are spending vast sums of taxpayer money and devoting the bulk of their juvenile justice budgets—$5 billion in 2008—to correctional institutions and other facility placements when non-residential programming options deliver equal or better results for a fraction of the cost.
Inadequate Despite their exorbitant daily costs, most juvenile correctional facilities are ill-prepared to address the needs of many confined youth. Often, they fail to provide even the minimum services appropriate for the care and rehabilitation of youth in confinement.
Priorities for Reform
Limit Eligibility for Correctional Placements Commitment to a juvenile corrections facility should be reserved for youth who have committed serious offenses and pose a clear and demonstrable risk to public safety.
Invest in Promising Non-Residential Alternatives In every jurisdiction, juvenile justice leaders must erect a broad continuum of high-quality services, supervision programs, and dispositional options to supervise and treat youthful offenders in their home communities. Analysis in the report clearly shows that closing large youth prison facilities does not increase juvenile crime rates.
Change the Financial Incentives States must eliminate counterproductive financial incentives that encourage overreliance on correctional placements.
Adopt Best Practice Reforms for Managing Youth Offenders In addition to better programmatic alternatives, every jurisdiction must adopt complementary policies, practices, and procedures to limit unnecessary commitments and reduce confinement populations. The report highlights best practices that some states have implemented as alternatives to incarceration.
Replace Large Institutions With Small, Treatment-Oriented Facilities for the Dangerous Few The limited number of youthful offenders whose serious and chronic offending demand secure confinement should be placed into small, humane, and treatment-oriented facilities.
Use Data to Hold Systems Accountable Strong data collection must be a central pillar of efforts to reform juvenile corrections systems and to reduce overreliance on incarceration and residential placement.
All of the above is drawn directly from the report.
From my own experience with youth prisons I, too, have concluded that they are wholly ineffective and, in fact, create the very problems they claim to solve. Any successes the prisons claim to produce are not to be credited to the prisons themselves or their programs, but to the strengths and abilities of those relatively few self-motivated kids who can resist the prisons' overpowering negative cultures of violence, retribution, and hopelessness and make something of their experience.
America's youth prisons can only be survived successfully by kids who can save themselves.
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