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Report: Youth Should Not Be Behind Bars

States pay on average about $90,000 a year for every youth in a juvenile facility. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
States pay on average about $90,000 a year for every youth in a juvenile facility. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
October 24, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa – Children should not be kept behind bars, according to a new report that examines the ineffectiveness of youth prisons in Iowa 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 youth.

"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.

In Iowa there are about 700 youth in correctional facilities.

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

And the report notes systemic maltreatment has been documented in youth prison facilities in nearly half of states since 2000, including Iowa.

McCarthy notes there is 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.

"The money that we are wasting now on these incredibly expensive as well as ineffective institutions, we've got to reinvest that money in things that work,” he stresses. “We don't have any magic solutions for juvenile crime but we have many programs that have evidence of success that we need to invest our dollars in."

The report recommends a four R strategy: reduce the pipeline of children into youth facilities; reform the corrections culture that wrongly assumes locking up children improves safety; replace youth prisons with rehabilitative services; and reinvest in evidence-based solutions.


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IA