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Federal Juvenile Justice Reforms Would Encourage Changes in ID

PHOTO: Idaho would receive incentives for locking up fewer juveniles, under a newly updated Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act introduced in Congress. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
PHOTO: Idaho would receive incentives for locking up fewer juveniles, under a newly updated Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act introduced in Congress. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
December 15, 2014

BOISE, Idaho - Congress is set to consider updating a decades-old law that guides states on the custody and care of juveniles in the criminal justice system.

Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was introduced late last week, and one big change would be providing incentives to states to lock up fewer children.

Investigative journalist Nell Bernstein said locking kids up is expensive for states - about $200 per day, per inmate in Idaho, according to the state Department of Juvenile Corrections - and can cause harm that follows kids for the rest of their lives.

"The ones that we incarcerate are twice as likely, when you control for everything under the sun including the delinquent act, to end up as adult prisoners," she said.

Her research into juvenile justice has focused on lawsuits related to guards abusing kids in custody; Idaho is facing several such lawsuits. She also claimed that guards are rarely punished, and that kids are afraid to speak up or don't have safe ways to file grievances.

Bernstein advocates for closing most juvenile-detention facilities, saying treating the underlying issues closer to kids' homes has been proved to be more effective. She also believes that the "acting out," "mouthing off," skipping school or shoplifting that often leads to kids being put behind bars is a developmental phase.

"We have to unlock ourselves from this concept that the first-line response when a young person does something we don't want them to do is to remove them from home and community and place them in a locked institution," she said.

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

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