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Report: Wyoming Still Tops for Locking Up Kids

PHOTO: There's been a big drop nationwide in the number of youth behind bars, but Wyoming still jails young people at the second-highest rate in the nation. Photo courtesy of AECF.
PHOTO: There's been a big drop nationwide in the number of youth behind bars, but Wyoming still jails young people at the second-highest rate in the nation. Photo courtesy of AECF.
February 27, 2013

LARAMIE, Wyo. - The "lock 'em up" approach to juvenile crime is becoming a thing of the past nationally.

A report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows a big drop in the number of youths behind bars - and, at the same time, juvenile crime rates also are down.

Wyoming saw a 12 percent decrease in the rate of youth incarceration, but as Wyoming Kids Count director Marc Homer explained, the state still ranks second-highest in the nation for its youth lock-up rate - at 440 per 100,000.

"We are still far behind the rest of the nation in terms of really restructuring the way we deal with juveniles," Homer said, finding alternative means of treating them, of improving their lives."

The report made the case that most states have changed juvenile justice policies because detention centers and prisons are expensive and ineffective. It noted that youths behind bars lose educational ground, are more likely to be rearrested and far more likely to get in trouble with the law as adults.

Homer said Wyoming should follow other states in changing the way police and the courts deal with nonviolent offenders such as youths with absenteeism, caught smoking, or even cow-tipping.

"Dismantle the apparatus of youth incarceration that we have here, that's well-entrenched," he said, "and starting to build community efforts at a lower dollar cost, and treating the kids more humanely."

The report said 339 youths were incarcerated in Wyoming in 1997, but just 255 in 2010.

South Dakota is tops in the nation for its high youth lock-up rate. While the number of youths imprisoned nationwide has declined, the report noted that the Unitd States still locks up juveniles at a rate far higher than does any other industrialized nation.

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

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