The “most wonderful time of the year” may be the hardest for tens of thousands of young people locked up for the holidays. Many states try — within the confines of security rules, budgets, and protocols — to make the season a little brighter for youthful offenders, who often are housed far from home, Stateline reports. The Oklahoma Santa Claus Commission will spread cheer with presents. Each of the 400 offenders in the state’s residential detention facilities and group homes will receive a Kelly green duffle bag, a holiday stocking with candy and stationery, body wash, and a $9 gift card. “These are children who made a mistake,” said Tierney Tinnin of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs. “For us to provide a sense of normalcy in the holiday season helps put them on the path to right decisions, so they will be a great asset to the community when they come out.”
Research has shown that incarceration of lower-risk teens leads to higher recidivism rates, so incarceration is increasingly seen as a last resort. The number of youths in custody has dropped by more than half, from 108,800 in 2000 to 50,800 in 2014, says the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “The more we try to normalize these kids, the better the outcome,” said James Bueche of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, which will distribute holiday gift bags to about 235 incarcerated youths, ages 13 to 20. “If you treat them as less than human, that’s the way they’re going to be.” Around the country, state, local and private detention and residential centers, as well as faith and local support groups, provide small gifts or holiday meals to juveniles who spend the holidays in custody. Oklahoma’s gift program is different because it’s required by law and funded by the state.