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Drop in Juvenile Crime in ME Echoes Lower Incarceration Rate

February 28, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine - A new report contains a double dose of good news, both for young people who run afoul of the law and for Maine taxpayers concerned about crime.

The nation is moving away from locking up young offenders, according to a study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which found that the youth incarceration rate dropped by 41 percent in the past 15 years.

Maine is following that trend, said Claire Berkowitz, research and Kids Count director at the Maine Children's Alliance, with a similar drop in the crime rate for young offenders during that same time period.

"There is always this fear that, 'Oh, if we don't lock up the youth that are doing things in the community, our crime rate's going to go up.' Well, the opposite is true," she said. "Our juvenile crime rate has been cut in half."

Juvenile arrests in Maine dropped from more than 12,000 in 1997 to around 6,500 in 2010, Berkowitz said.

Work still needs to be done, said Laura Speer, associate director for policy and research at the Casey Foundation, because three out of four young people in detention in the United States are there for a nonviolent offense.

"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."

While the juvenile crime rate is down in Maine, Berkowitz said, the move away from youth incarceration also is giving a break to local taxpayers.

"They're usually costly to operate," she said. "Juvenile-corrections facilities are enormously costly, and they often put youth at risk for injury and abuse - and are largely ineffective at reducing recidivism."

The nation incarcerated 225 out of every 100,000 young people in 2010, higher than any other industrialized country, according to the report. It found major racial disparities, with young people of color far more likely to end up in detention.

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

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME