Government Technology

Juvenile Crime Drop Prompts New Look at Policies

California Gov. Jerry Brown

$200,000 per year to incarcerate a juvenile

September 23, 2011 By

California’s Governor Jerry Brown ... reached a compromise with the Legislature on passage of a bill mandating that youth be sent to state facilities only if there’s been an agreement with the county. All other youths will be treated at the county level, which saves the state money.

Experiments are under way in a number of states aimed at making dramatic changes in the treatment of juvenile crime. In part they are a reaction to the fact that while FBI reports show juvenile crime dropping across the country, state juvenile corrections costs continue to be high.

Some scholars see this cost as a missed opportunity. “The scale of incarceration is not simply a reaction to crime. It is a policy choice,” write Jeffery A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in their new report on juvenile incarceration. Evans and Butts argue that “realignment” models, or models that stress rehabilitation in the community over confinement in state prisons, are the most effective for rehabilitating kids and saving money on juvenile corrections.

Efforts to shift the cost burden of juvenile justice from the state to the county level are currently underway in California and Illinois. California’s Governor Jerry Brown recommended eliminating the state's Division of Juvenile Facilities earlier this year, but reached a compromise with the Legislature on passage of a bill mandating that youth be sent to state facilities only if there’s been an agreement with the county. All other youths will be treated at the county level, which saves the state money.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recently signed into law HB 83, which requires judges in juvenile court to  impose only the “least restrictive alternative based on evidence” and to consider community-based treatment when sentencing a juvenile.

But New York may be the most dramatic example. Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for closing all state facilities and investing in community-based programs, which would improve outcomes for youth and be cheaper for the state. "Guess how much it costs per year to keep a person in a juvenile justice facility?" the governor asked a group in Harlem on September 18. "Over $200,000 per year. $200,000! You could've sent that person to Harvard University and it would be cheaper. We're going to take that money and provide it in community-based services so the problem doesn't happen in the first place."

New York’s chief judge agrees that the treatment of juveniles should be geared more towards rehabilitation. The New York Times reported that Judge Jonathan Lippmann is proposing that the state should stop automatically charging 16-and-17-year-old offenders as adults and move the less violent crimes to family court, where there are more services available for youth. New York and North Carolina are the only states that automatically treat 16-year-olds as adults.

Reprinted courtesy of a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy.

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Stephen Gruchacz    |    Commented September 27, 2011

In Sussex County New JErsey we recognized the shift in services two years ago. We closed our Juvenile Detention Center and instituted our In Home Program. Juveniles sentenced by the Court to the program wear electronic braclets that are monitored 24 hours each day. Fot those requiring secure detention we enterented into a shared services agreement with an adjacent county. This has saved $1M annually and improved outcome.

Linda    |    Commented September 27, 2011

I believe education is an important part of the solution- educating the parents! When a 13 yr old boy, reading at a 3rd grade level, ends up locked up and he states he is the oldest of 12 and his mother is caring for his baby. The system continues to be broke.... breaking the back of New Yorkers. He said he has a life expectancy of 21 yrs as he has graduated from being the lookout to selling drugs on street corners. He says he takes what he wants from people and doesn't care if he hurts them. Good luck New Yorkers, keep him (and his family support group) in your neighborhood. And yes his favorite Christmas meal is take-out fr Kentucky Fried Chicken. But I can appreciate that because I don't own a truck big enough to haul a week's worth of groceries home for 12-13 people! If you want to save money stop the drain on the system before these children are born!

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