Despite a decline in arrests of juveniles for violent crimes, the number of youths who are locked up awaiting trial has soared nationwide, the Washington-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice says. The Chicago Tribune notes that juvenile violent-crime arrests dropped almost 60 percent from 1994 to 2000; teens held in locked detention centers rose about 72 percent. Most are held on charges not involving violence, and more than half are age 15 or younger.
The coalition contends that there is a national “over-reliance” on secure detention for juveniles. It cites Cook County, Ill., detention programs, including home confinement and centers where juveniles can go in the evenings, as a leading example of how youths should be handled.
“We too often lock away children upon arrest, before they’ve had a hearing,” said John Dewese, coaltion chair. “But the decision to place them behind bars can backfire.” Juveniles locked up awaiting trial are exposed to violent criminals, sending them back into society with more anger and desire to do harm, the coalition.
Systems like Cook County’s that divert non-violent accused juveniles who aren’t flight risks into alternative programs ultimately save money and improve their chances for positive change, Dewese said.