Youth Need Community-Based Treatment, Not Jails: Study

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Photo courtesy Campaign for Youth Justice

Treating youth convicted of a crime within the community outweighs incarcerating them, a new report by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) argues.

Researchers contend that convicted youth who are served in the community are significantly less likely to re-offend than if they are confined—regardless of their offense type—making everyone in the community safer.

Assigning young people to community-based supervision is also significantly more cost-effective than confinement, and it mitigates the disproportionate impact of confinement in the justice system on youth of color, authors wrote.

Researchers gathered data from young people directly impacted by the justice system, public defenders and prosecutors, advocates and policy-makers and paired with the the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) to explore how to build more effective approaches to serve youth involved in a violent crime in the community.

In the last two decades, largely in response to this body of research, there has been a seismic shift in the way confinement is used, the study noted.

According to federal data trends reported by the U.S. Department of Justice, since 1997, there has been a nearly 50 percent decline in the number of confined youth.

Today, communities are safer as a result, according to the authors.

However, the benefits of safely reducing the rate of incarcerated youth have not accrued equally. The reductions in the youth incarceration rate have been concentrated among nonviolent offenses—70 percent of the population decline.

In addition, despite plummeting numbers of youth in confinement, racial and ethnic disparities have actually increased.

Therefore, it “is clear that reducing the number of youth of color in confinement requires an intentional racial justice strategy that extends beyond simply changing policies and practices that drive confinement,” authors said.

The study made the following policy recommendations for states to reduce incarcerated youth and move them towards a safer, community approach to justice:

  • Repealing state laws requiring a mandatory term of confinement or an automatic transfer to adult court. Mandatory minimums are resource intensive. Being charged as an adult is connected to a host of problems; youth are more likely to re-offend or be harmed while in the adult system, spend time in solitary confinement, and provide challenges to correctional leadership to serve youth effectively while keeping them safe.
  • Changing practice standards that needlessly increase length of stay. In 2015, more than 31,000 youth were committed out-of-home, with nearly one-quarter of youth being confined for longer than 6 months. Adjusting practice that reduces an individual’s length of stay would allow more young people involved in violent crimes to transition into the community.
  • Expanding available diversion options for youth involved in violence. Every year, nearly one million youth are arrested and experience the negative consequences of justice system involvement.
  • Narrowing the number of offenses or behaviors that require confinement. By limiting the scope of confinement eligibility, some states have increased their community supervision.
  • Providing appropriate supervision and support for young people in the community. Effective probation supervision for youth involved in violence is possible.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by senior TCR staff reporter Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.

One thought on “Youth Need Community-Based Treatment, Not Jails: Study

  1. Greetings from Fr. Romek in Zambia, I definitely agree with this way of bringing back the young people to the Society and made them to reform by themselves as much as possible. Once I came across a town in
    Brazil, where only volunteers run the house for the young people, who made some offences. There was no police, no prison officers. the young people were reforming very well. They did no face so much escapes as well. The youth were reforming very well and the community around was benefiting as well.

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