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Fewer CA Kids Spending Time Behind Bars



February 28, 2013

Fewer California kids are spending time behind bars. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the youth incarceration rate nationwide reached a 35-year low in 2010. In California, the rate decrease was nearly 50 percent from 1997 to 2010. Despite improvements, the U.S. still incarcerates youth at a higher rate than other countries. Jessica Mindnich with "Children Now" said many kids return to the system.

"We have over 11,500 youths in this state who are incarcerated," Mindnich said. "Because we aren't giving them the support and services they need, it is very likely that these youths will grow up into adults that end up in our adult system."

Laura Speer with the Casey Foundation said about three-quarters of kids incarcerated in the U.S. are there for non-violent offenses. That is why alternatives to juvenile incarceration must be considered, she said.

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

Mindnich stressed that it is important to focus on prevention in order to be able to break a school-to-prison pipeline.

"One of the things we're doing in the state is looking at school discipline policies," she said. "We know that students who are suspended or expelled are three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system in the following year."

Nationwide, the report found large disparities in youth confinement rates by race, with African-American youth nearly five times more likely to be locked up than their white peers. The report recommended several strategies, including incarcerating only those who pose a public safety risk and investing in home- or community-based alternatives.

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

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA