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Report: Close Youth Prisons, Switch to Alternative Treatment

Minnesota is one of the states that have moved toward community treatment programs rather than prison for kids. (
Minnesota is one of the states that have moved toward community treatment programs rather than prison for kids. (
October 24, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Children should not be kept behind bars, according to a new report that examines the ineffectiveness of youth prisons in Minnesota and other states.

The research from The Annie E. Casey Foundation pulls together evidence of the failings of youth correctional facilities and recommends they all be closed.

Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy says these prisons have high recidivism rates and do not improve long-term outcomes for young people.

"These institutions fail at protecting the community, they fail at turning young lives around, they are unconscionably expensive, they’re prone to abuse, they defy reform and the bottom line is we have alternatives," he states.

McCarthy says youths are incarcerated for low-risk offenses and often don't get the guidance and support they need to get back on track.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota, says some states, Minnesota included, have started to send more children into treatment instead of locking them up.

"Minnesota has really embraced that,” she states. “What we've seen is that when youths commit very minor types of crimes, if you put them in with youths who have done more intensive crimes, they learn from each other, but the wrong way."

Abderholden maintains children don't learn much by being punished.

"Childrens' brains aren't really fully developed until about age 26 and kids, frankly, do dumb things,” she explains. “And, I think part of the push for zero tolerance and those kinds of things have made us look at children as adults instead of as children. "

The report also finds there's an enormous financial toll for youth prisons. While costs vary state-to-state, states pay on average about $90,000 a year for every youth in a juvenile facility.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN