Juvenile justice authorities across the U.S. are learning a lesson that took hold in Kansas City’s Jackson County years ago, says the Kansas City Star: Most troubled kids don’t get better the more time they spend locked up. They usually get worse. That's why authorities are locking up fewer kids. The national rate of juvenile confinement fell by about half from 1997 to 2011, says the Pew Charitable Trusts. U.S. judges sentenced 33,472 fewer juvenile offenders in 2011 to what used to be called “reform school” than they did in 1997.
That's good news both for kids and for states that no longer have to maintain expensive institutions for offenders who can be treated better outside locked residential facilities, said Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project. “The juvenile system has been ahead of the adult criminal justice system in moving toward policies and programs that put offenders in the right places — that is, the places that will hold them accountable for their behavior at a fair price to taxpayers,” he said.
Juvenile authorities in Jackson County long have worked to keep youth offenders out of the state system and, when possible, even out of pretrial detention. “If you keep kids in detention, those kids are more likely to end up in residential placement,” said Jackson County juvenile officer Mary Marquez. “Detention is bad for kids. There's plenty of research that shows that it puts them deeper in the system and impacts their behavior and actions.”