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Moms are Changing the Juvenile Justice System

According to new research, the families of incarcerated youths are helping bring changes to the juvenile justice system. (iStockphoto)
According to new research, the families of incarcerated youths are helping bring changes to the juvenile justice system. (iStockphoto)
May 6, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Families in North Dakota and across the nation will be feeling the pain of separation this Mother's Day weekend because of incarceration, a new report suggests.

The good news in the "Mothers at the Gate" report from the Institute for Policy Studies may be that, in many states, family members are challenging the juvenile-justice system to make changes.

Report co-author Karen Dolan, a fellow at the institute, said moms in particular are trying to do more by becoming policy experts and activists.

"These mothers don't want to be seen as victims," she said. "They are experts, they are resources in terms of how to change the conditions, not just for their children but for other children."

Most states have reduced their youth prison populations in recent years, but according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Justice, North Dakota bucked that trend in 2013 and saw about an 18 percent increase in the number of incarcerated youths.

Dolan said her research shows more kids are being locked up for a wider range of offenses, including those that once were considered juvenile misbehavior.

"We see more criminalization and policing inside of schools," she said. "You have much less tolerance for childish behavior, and so these children end up being locked up instead of sent to the principal's office."

The report suggested several other changes North Dakota and other states could make, such as ending solitary confinement and improving visitation rules and telephone access for families.

The report is online at ips-dc.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND