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Report: ‘Lock ‘em Up’ Approach to Juvenile Justice Doesn’t Work

October 4, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. - When kids act up, locking them up is the wrong thing to do in most cases, says a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, Bart Lubow, says decades of research, along with new data, show that putting kids behind bars doesn't keep them from criminality later. It also shows the practice wastes taxpayer money and exposes young people to violence and abuse, while in almost every case, the "crimes" they had committed were minor.

"The majority are either charged with nonviolent offenses, or are there primarily for acts of defiance relative to an adult."

The report says Connecticut is one of 20 states where abusive treatment of juveniles has been documented since 2000. After acknowledging the issue and announcing that the Connecticut Juvenile Training School would be closed, state officials have since reversed their decision and are keeping it open.

Lubow says that, since the research shows locking kids up hasn't paid off, whether in a corrections center or "training school," it's time for states to adopt policies to slow the sentencing stream and invest in alternatives that focus on treatment and supervision.

"Comprehensive, well-thought-out strategies in state juvenile justice systems that will not only ensure that there's fewer kids locked up, but that will ensure that there's less crime, and less money spent, and the kids have better odds of being successful in adulthood."

The report notes that several states are already moving away from relying on juvenile incarceration, mainly because of budget problems or scandals over abuse in institutions. It finds that more than 50 facilities nationwide have been closed since 2007.

Lubow says the report highlights the way many kids end up in the juvenile justice system in the first place.

"The largest single source of new referrals to juvenile courts is public schools, enforcing zero-tolerance requirements and using police officers to supplant the disciplinary functions that schools used to exercise."

He says that, for the few teenagers who are actually dangerous, large institutions should be replaced with small, treatment-oriented facilities. The report makes six recommendations to help states change their systems.

The full report, "No Place for Kids, The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration," is at www.aecf.org/noplaceforkids.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT