Heavy Reliance on Juvenile Incarceration Is Not Paying Off for Taxpayers or Kids, Report Finds

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Locking up juvenile offenders in correctional facilities is not paying off from a public safety, rehabilitation or cost perspective, according to a new report the Annie E. Casey Foundation released today. No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration comes at a time when states nationwide are struggling with enormous budget deficits and looking for ways to trim spending. The report reinforces the growing consensus among experts that the current incarceration model provides little public safety benefit.

“The current budget deficit in Georgia means juvenile incarceration facilities will face continued cuts,” said Kirsten Widner, director of Policy and Advocacy at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of law. “In order to make these cuts safely, Georgia needs to bring its laws and policies around juvenile detention in line with proven best practices and the reality of our shrinking budgets. We can do this by limiting eligibility for placement in juvenile prisons to the kids who are most dangerous to our communities, and redirect other children to a continuum of lower-cost but more effective treatment and supervision programs.”

According to the report, 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 of confined youth: Within three years of release, three-quarters of youth are rearrested; up to 72 percent, depending on individual state measures, are convicted of a new offense.
  • Does not enhance public safety: States that lowered youth confinement rates the most saw a greater decline in juvenile violent crime arrests than states that increased incarceration rates or reduced them more slowly.
  • Wastes taxpayer dollars: Georgia continues to spend the bulk of its juvenile justice budgets—nearly $350 million 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: Nearly 50 percent of states have been sued in the past decade alone for persistent maltreatment in at least one of their institutions.

The report highlights best practices that some states have implemented as alternatives to incarceration. The Casey Foundation hopes that No Place for Kids will help to generate a more coordinated national movement toward reform that results in less crime and a more successful future for America’s young people.

“Juvenile incarceration is one of our most costly and least effective tools for responding to delinquent behavior,” said Widner. “Georgia is already working on reforming its juvenile code, and some of those reforms fit well with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s recommendations.”

For a copy of the Casey Foundation’s full report and issue brief, visit aecf.org/noplaceforkids.

Read the GPB News story.

Naja Williamson
Georgia KIDS COUNT coordinator
404-527-7394 (x133)

William Valladares
GaFCP Communications Manager
404-527-7394 (x114)