As Teen Detention Drops Nationally, A Few States Go The Opposite Way


Since the mid-1990s, as violent crime by juveniles has declined sharply, the U.S. juvenile incarceration rate has been cut nearly in half, says The Marshall Project. That mirror trends in adult crime but also is the product of new efforts to find more effective and inexpensive alternatives to locking up young people, such as mediation, family therapy, and substance abuse treatment. Research shows that for juveniles, those interventions are more successful than incarceration in helping them avoid further crime, complete their educations, and find employment.

West Virginia is one of a handful of states that has been moving in the opposite direction. It confines juveniles at a rate 42 percent higher than the nation and has had the largest jump in youth incarceration since 2001. The state places offenders as young as 10 in facilities such as detention centers and group homes. A year in a West Virginia juvenile facility costs more than $80,000 per child, compared with $1,000 to $33,000 per child in community programs that have reduced recidivism up to 20 percent in other states. Some of the same rural states that are lacking in treatment options, including South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, are also taking an aggressive approach to minor infractions like truancy, alcohol consumption, school fights, and probation violations.

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