Illinois currently has about 1,200 youth in juvenile correctional facilities, and another 2,000 awaiting trial in detention facilities. How much does that cost us? More than $100 million a year, or about $85,000 per child, according to the Illinois State Bar Association. Fifteen percent of those children, it says, are in for misdemeanors, and 40 percent are in for low-level offenses.
What is it getting us? Nothing, according to a new study by the Annie E. Casey foundation. In fact, it’s probably making things worse.
Its findings? Locking up minors doesn’t reduce their rate of recidivism, doesn’t reduce crime, wastes taxpayer dollars and exposes children to violence and abuse. One hundred million for all that? It’s a lousy bargain.
Here are some of its findings:
– Within three years of being released, roughly 75 percent of youth are rearrested.
– Declining juvenile incarceration is associated with declining crime. Between 1997 and 2007, states which lowered juvenile confinement rates the most saw a greater decline in juvenile violent crime arrests.
– Nationally, we spend about $5 billion on youth incarceration, even though in-home and community-based programs have been shown to generate equal or better results at a fraction of the price.
– The chilren are not alright: One in eight incarcerated juveniles reported being sexually abused by staff or other youth. Forty-two percent feared physical attack.
In Illinois, the problem isn’t just juvenile incarceration. The Chicago Reporter investigated Illinois’ policy to send 17-year-olds with a felony conviction to adult prison, as well as youth convicted of gun crimes. That series, written by reporter Angela Caputo, questioned the policy of hundreds of minors serving hard time in Illinois’ adult prisons with other adult felons, before these teens are allowed to vote, buy cigarettes or join the military. Caputo also examined young people sent to prison for gun charges. In those cases, a gun was recovered at the scene less than half of the time.
So what should be done? The study suggests that incarceration should be reserved for only the most dangerous youth.
“We have to recognize that incarceration of youth per se is toxic,” says Dr. Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. “So we need to reduce incarceration of young people to the very small dangerous few. And we’ve got to recognize that if we lock up a lot of kids, it’s going to increase crime.”
Turns out that being tough on crime means not locking up chilren. Somebody should tell the politicians.
Photo credit: Casey Serin
© Community Renewal Society 2011