The number of juvenile offenders held under lock and key dropped by about 25 percent during the last decade, and by more than half in Vermont, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Louisiana, says the New York Times. While many states have refashioned their policies, some continue to lock up teenagers despite declining violent crime rates. The Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice says that only 1 in 20 arrests of young people are for serious, violent crimes like murder, rape or aggravated assault. About 80 percent of those taken in state custody are locked up for drug offenses, misdemeanors, or property crimes.
These teenagers would be more cheaply and effectively managed through programs that supervise and monitor them in the neighborhoods where they live, the Times editorializes. Several states, including North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon, have moved away from youth incarceration, reserving it for truly dangerous offenders. An Ohio program, “Reclaim Ohio,” shifted responsibility for juvenile incarceration to counties, and encouraged local governments to treat low-risk young offenders close to home. This kind of approach has reduced costs and lowered incarceration rates for teenagers without jeopardizing public safety, says the Times.