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Montana’s Youth Incarceration Rate Drops

PHOTO: The youth incarceration rate in Montana has dropped by 28-percent, due to changes in policies on not sending low-level offenders to detention facilities.
PHOTO: The youth incarceration rate in Montana has dropped by 28-percent, due to changes in policies on not sending low-level offenders to detention facilities.
February 27, 2013

MISSOULA, Mont. - The number of youths behind bars in Montana has dropped, mirroring a nationwide trend.

A report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that the rate of incarceration for young people in Montana was down 28 percent from 1997 to 2010.

It didn't happen by accident, said Thale Dillon, director of economic research for Montana Kids Count. She credited the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative at the Department of Corrections as one reason why the numbers declined.

"Reform of sorts of the youth court system in the state," she said, "focusing on keeping juveniles out of confinement."

The report noted a "sea of change" in how juvenile offenders are treated, in recognition that imprisonment isn't effective - plus, it's expensive. Dillon said more work still needs to be done in Montana so that nonviolent offenders never are locked up.

Even with fewer youths being incarcerated, said Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for policy and research, three-quarters of them are there for minor offenses that don't pose a risk to the public.

"They have a chance to get their lives back on track," she said, "and so we want to make sure they get put in the best possible program to get them back on track."

Alternatives to prison include substance abuse and mental health treatment and behavioral therapy.

The report said 303 youths were incarcerated in Montana in 1997, a number that dropped to 192 in 2010.

The report, “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” is online at aecf.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT