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Study: WYO Quick to Throw the Book at Kids

June 12, 2008

Cheyenne, WY – Wyoming's rate of locking kids up for crime is two-and-a-half times the national pace for those under age 15, and 75 percent of the juveniles behind bars are there for nonviolent crimes. Deanna Frey, executive director of the Wyoming Children's Action Alliance, says those figures indicate the state is putting too many youngsters on the pathway to a life of bouncing in and out of prison.

"What we want is kids that are going to be productive members of our communities and, by incarcerating them, what we're doing is lessening those chances."

Frey says the statistics, from the 2008 "Kids Count Data Book," should inspire community discussion about how to change the system.

"That we talk about diversion, not detention. That we talk about fully involving the families; that we don't cut them out of the process. Families need help, and they need support."

One problem, according to Frey, is that Wyoming doesn't have many alternatives to jail for troubled kids. Her suggestion is that communities and state leaders explore such options as behavior modification classes and mental health treatment options, even though these can be more expensive than incarceration.

Some argue that the state must be tough on juvenile crime in order to protect people and property. However, the Kids Count report notes that California has drastically reduced the number of children in correctional facilities, and teen crime rates did not increase as a result. To view the full report online, visit www.kidscount.org.

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - WY