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

October 4, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - 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.

The foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, Bart Lubow, says decades of research, along with new data, show that putting kids behind bars doesn't keep them from criminal behavior later. The report also shows that the practice doesn't provide public safety benefits, wastes taxpayer money, and exposes young people to violence and abuse, while in almost every case the "crimes" committed are minor.

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

Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of Indiana Youth Institute, says juvenile judges in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Evansville have had the option of alternative sentencing for years.

"The judges involved report that they are quite successful, that these low-level juvenile offenders indeed are less like to become repeat criminals when their sentences expire."

Stanczykiewicz emphasizes that it's only low-level offenders that are considered for alternatives, not kids charged with serious offenses.

Bart Lubow says there's another aspect of the report regarding the way kids end up in the juvenile justice system.

"The largest single source of new referrals to juvenile courts is public schools, enforcing zero-tolerance requirements and using police officers to supplant the disciplinary functions that schools used to exercise."

The report makes six recommendations to help states improve their juvenile justice systems.

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

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN