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Study Recommends Ending Youth Incarceration

States pay on average about $90,000 a year for every youth in a juvenile facility. (Pixabay)
States pay on average about $90,000 a year for every youth in a juvenile facility. (Pixabay)
October 25, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Kids should not be kept behind bars - that's the message of a new report examining the ineffectiveness of youth prisons in Wyoming 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.

Donna Sheen, the director of the Wyoming Children's Law Center said youth prisons have high recidivism rates and do not improve long-term outcomes for youth.

"Youth confinement is not an effective way to change youth behavior, or to keep communities safe," she said. "Any intervention that you may want to use in an institutional setting you can also use in a community setting and be just as successful."

The study points to a recent survey of young people held in state-funded correctional facilities where one in eight reported being victimized sexually by staff or other inmates. Sheen said she's hopeful the report will help Wyoming reconsider how it uses youth confinement.

Annie E. Casey president and CEO Patrick McCarthy noted there is also 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 said. "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 kids into youth facilities, reform the corrections culture that wrongly assumes locking up kids improves safety, replace youth prisons with rehabilitative services, and reinvest in evidence-based solutions.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY