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Group Pushes for Closure of Juvenile Detention Facilities

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016   

BALTIMORE - The Youth First Initiative identifies a long list of youth detention facilities, about 80 locations across the country, that it says need to be closed, in a new report.

The campaign's President and CEO Liz Ryan says even closing these youth prisons isn't a big enough step. She thinks the focus should shift from juvenile incarceration, to prevention and treatment.

Ryan says Youth First also released a survey that showed 77 percent of Americans are in favor of that.

Ryan says Maryland has made some progress is reducing the number of kids held at state facilities, but her group believes the state still over-incarcerates young people.

"The public believes strongly that kids who engage in delinquent acts are capable of change, and change for the better," says Ryan. "They believe that the juvenile justice system should help kids get back on track and that is what is most important to them."

She cites an Annie E. Casey Foundation report from last year that found while the national rate of juvenile incarceration dropped by 29 percent between 2007 and 2011, Maryland's rate went up 10 percent.

Ryan says juvenile crime is down, but confinement for juveniles in trouble is not.

"Maryland also puts a lot of kids in residential treatment facilities," she says. "And they're spending a great deal of resources on that when in fact, they could be doing it at much lower cost and in a much more effective way."

Ryan and the Casey Foundation both call the current system "failed," and say repeated studies have demonstrated that juvenile confinement is the least effective and most expensive way to respond to delinquency.

The new report shows states spend between $88,000 and $150,000 a year per young person, and the recidivism rate is still very high.



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