The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s recent report, “No Place for Kids,” uses data from the last four decades to show that incarcerating juveniles is inefficient in rehabilitating young offenders, ineffective in reducing juvenile crime rates and an overall waste of taxpayer money.
For every 100,000 incarcerated juveniles worldwide, 336 are in the U.S. The next highest country is South Africa with 69 per 100,000, followed by New Zealand at 68 then England and Wales with 47. On any given day, approximately 60,000 youth are incarcerated in the U.S. at an average annual cost of $88,000 per child.
Unfortunately, the data shows that higher juvenile incarceration rates do not result in less juvenile crime. The Foundation’s report shows that states that reduced their juvenile incarceration rate between 1997 and 2007 actually saw a decline in violent juvenile crimes. Furthering the trend, Texas has seen a 10 percent decline in juvenile crime and a nine percent drop in juvenile arrests since it started reducing the jailed juvenile population in 2007.
California has followed a similar trend. The state’s incarcerated juvenile population has fallen by 85 percent since 1996. Similarly, the number of juveniles facing criminal charges in Riverside and across the state has also dropped. According to the report, in 2009, California’s juvenile arrest rate reached its lowest level since 1970.
Incarceration Does Not Prevent Future Crime
While locking up juvenile offenders takes them out of situations where they are likely to reoffend and gets them treatment, incarceration sometimes takes them out of the pot and throws them into the fire. Juvenile jails and prisons hold the supposed worst of the worst and many juveniles end up learning more violent and criminal behavior while locked up.
Sadly, those running the facilities are not without blame. A 2010 report asserts that one in eight confined juveniles has reported sexual abuse by staff or other juveniles. Forty-two percent have feared physical attacks. It is not surprising that young offenders face great difficulty turning things around once released. Within three years of release, about 75 percent are rearrested and up to 72 percent are convicted of a new offense.
Improving the System
In hopes of improving the juvenile justice system, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report makes the following suggestions:
- Only incarcerate youthful offender who have committed serious offenses and are a clear risk to public safety
- Invest in non-residential alternatives
- Reduce the financial incentives for locking up juveniles
- Adopt best practice models for managing juvenile offenders
- Shift the focus from large institutions to small treatment-oriented facilities for the most dangerous youth
- Collect better data
The call for alternatives to youthful offender incarceration is not new. The most common examples of alternatives are home detention, electronic monitoring, supervised release, skills training programs and residential treatment centers. The goal for youth offenders should always be rehabilitation, and not punishment or incarceration.
If your child or other young loved one is currently locked up on juvenile charges, contact an experienced Riverside criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.