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Report: WYO in Dire Need of Juvenile Justice Reforms

October 4, 2011

CASPER, Wyo. - When youths act up, a new report says, incarcerating them up is the wrong thing to do in most cases - and yet Wyoming locks them up at the highest rate in the nation.

The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides evidence - based on decades of research along with new data - that putting youths behind bars doesn't keep them from committing crimes later.

Marc Homer, director of Wyoming Kids Count,, says Wyoming is far behind.

"Clearly, in Wyoming, we need to continue with this debate about what we are going to do to reform the juvenile system."

The report also shows that the practice doesn't benefit public safety, wastes taxpayer dollars and exposes young people to violence and abuse. In almost every case, it says, the "crimes" committed are minor.

Wyoming is spending $66 million a year to incarcerate youths, Homer says, compared with Vermont, a state with a similar population, which spends $3 million a year and keeps most youths out of jail.

Since the research shows that locking youths up hasn't paid off, says Bart Lubow, the foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, it's time for Wyoming and other 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 that kids have better odds of being successful in adulthood."

For the few dangerous teens, he says, large institutions should be replaced with small, treatment-oriented facilities. That's one of the report's six recommendations to help states change their systems.

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

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY