40 Years After MA Experiment, Some States Cut Juvenile Incarceration


By Ted Gest — The outlook may be promising for at least some states to reduce the number of juvenile lawbreakers held in custody, experts told a forum in Washington, D.C., yesterday. Reviewing trends over several decades, Barry Krisberg of the University of California Berkeley Law School said that about a dozen states have enacted progressive juvenile-rehabilitation laws in recent years, after 47 states went the other way in the 1990s, passing some form of “get tough” laws on juvenile crime. Krisberg, who noted that California has reduced its total of 10,000 juveniles in prison to under 1,000, said a principal challenge now is to persuade prosecutors not to increase the number of cases in which accused juveniles are tried as adults. Among other speakers, Missouri official Tim Decker described how his state has modernized its juvenile-rehabilitation programs, and Vinny Schiraldi talked about how he worked to improve juvenile corrections in Washington, D.C. (he now is New York City probation chief.)

The discussion was held during a session sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., marking 40 years after Jerome Miller closed Massachusetts’ longstanding system of “training schools” for delinquents. From 1969 to 1973, Miller, as Massachusetts’ first Commissioner of Youth Services, substituted more than 250 non-profit programs and agencies for the former training schools. The Casey Foundation says that 18 states have closed 52 youth corrections facilities since 2007, but as of that year, more than 60,000 youths remained confined, leading the foundation to declare that “America’s heavy reliance on juvenile incarceration is unique among the world’s developed nations.”

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