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Fewer Kids being Incarcerated, But Problems Persist

February 28, 2013

LANSING, Mich. - Michigan is part of a national trend in which fewer youths are finding themselves behind bars.

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that in 2010 the United States reached a 35-year low in the number of incarcerated children. The changes come, in part, because of an increase in the number of community-based alternatives to juvenile justice

Along with the decrease in juvenile incarceration has come a decrease in juvenile crime. Laura Speer, associate director of policy and research at the Casey Foundation, said the study shows how effective the alternatives can be.

"We've gotten to where we are because the research is pretty clear that incarcerating young people, especially those who don't pose a demonstrable public safety risk, is not a smart thing to do," she said. "It doesn't work."

Michelle Weemhoff, senior policy associate at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, said the state should do more to expand programs that keep youths from being incarcerated.

"To date, the counties have really been the ones driving reforms locally," she said. "But, there needs to be an overarching infrastructure in which the state can encourage counties to move in this positive direction."

Community-based programs - including parole, electronic monitoring, family therapy and substance-abuse treatment - give youths the chance to get their lives back on track, Speer said. However, the report said the United States still locks up more youths than do other industrialized countries. Michigan had nearly 2,000 juveniles under detention in 2010, with the rate of incarceration decreasing 44 percent since 1997.

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

Rob South, Public News Service - MI