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Report: ‘Lock ‘em Up’ Approach to Juvenile Justice Doesn’t Work

October 4, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. - When kids act up, locking them up is the wrong thing to do, in most cases. A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delivers that finding. It cites decades of research, along with new data, to show that putting kids behind bars doesn't keep them from committing crimes later. It also says incarceration doesn't provide public safety benefits, wastes taxpayers' money, and exposes young people to violence and abuse.

Bart Lubow with the Casey Foundation adds in almost every case, the "crimes" involved are minor.

"The majority are either charged with nonviolent offenses, or are there primarily for acts of defiance relative to an adult."

The report notes that several states are already moving away from relying on juvenile incarceration, mainly because of budget problems or scandals over abuse in institutions. It finds more than 50 facilities have been shut down since 2007, nationwide.

Since the research shows that locking kids up hasn't paid off, Lubow says it's time for states to adopt policies to slow the sentencing stream and invest in alternatives that focus on treatment and supervision.

"Comprehensive, well-thought-out strategies in state juvenile justice systems that will not only ensure that there's fewer kids locked up, but that will ensure that there's less crime, and less money spent, and that kids have better odds of being successful in adulthood."

He says that, for the few teenagers who are actually dangerous, large institutions should be replaced with small, treatment-oriented facilities. It's one of six recommendations in the report to help states change their systems.

Ellen Fineberg, executive director of the Children's Alliance of New Hampshire, says most young people who are incarcerated in New Hampshire have not committed serious crimes, and therefore are better served in community-based treatment facilities.

"There are three such facilities in New Hampshire, and that keeps young people in their communities, in their homes."

New Hampshire has only one residential juvenile detention center, the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, which includes a Youth Detention Services Unit.

The report, "No Place for Kids, The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration," is at www.aecf.org

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH