Juvenile Justice Reforms Have National Impact


Missouri’s juvenile corrections system, which emphasizes rehabilitation in small groups, constant therapeutic interventions, and minimal force, is one of several promising reform movements that states are trying to reduce the costly confinement of youths, says the New York Times. California, which spends more than $200,000 a year on each incarcerated juvenile, reallocated $93 million in expenses by reducing state confinement. Other states, including Florida, Illinois, and Louisiana, have moved in a similar direction, focusing on improving conditions at state facilities to keep young offenders from returning. The reforms have begun to have a national impact, with a 12 percent decrease in juvenile offenders in custody, from 1997 to 2006, from 105,000 youths to 93,000.

Some states are working at the county level to avoid confinement altogether, keeping youths in their communities while they receive rehabilitative services, which advocates say is a cheaper alternative to residential care. The two largest state systems, Texas and California, cut long-term youth confinement by requiring counties to house low-level offenders in detention halls. Texas cut its 5,000-youth population by half within two years, while California reduced its population to 2,500, from more than 10,000 in 1997. But critics say that city and county detention programs are uneven and point out that states often do a poor job of monitoring them.

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