State budget cuts are forcing some young criminals out of counseling programs and group homes and into juvenile prisons. Critics call it a shortsighted move that will eventually lead to more crime and higher costs, the Associated Press reports. Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia are among states that have slashed juvenile justice spending — in some cases more than 20 percent — because of declining tax collections. Youth advocates expect the recession will bring more cuts next year in other states, hitting programs that try to rehabilitate children rather than simply locking them up. “If you raise a child in prison, you’re going to raise a convict,” said South Carolina Juvenile Justice Director Bill Byars. He has been asked to draw up plans for an additional 15 percent from a juvenile justice budget already cut $23 million, 20 percent, since June as part of a state effort to pare $1 billion from its $7 billion budget.
The story is similar elsewhere. Virginia is losing behavioral services staff and a facility that prepares children to go home after serving time, along with smaller camps and community programs. Juveniles in those programs will return to traditional correctional facilities. Advocates worry most about losing programs, such as group homes, that take children out of large facilities to give them individual attention. Sheila Bedi of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute said housing children can cost as much as $600 per child daily. Expenses can be higher when children emerge hardened from big youth prisons, commit more crimes, and end up in adult facilities.