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Juvenile Justice Reform Group Wants ND Youth Prisons Closed

Youth First Initiative released a new poll showing about 77 percent of Americans favor changing the focus of the juvenile justice system from incarceration to rehabilitation.  (iStockphoto)
Youth First Initiative released a new poll showing about 77 percent of Americans favor changing the focus of the juvenile justice system from incarceration to rehabilitation. (iStockphoto)
March 10, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - A juvenile justice reform group wants 80 of the country's oldest and largest youth prisons closed down, including one in North Dakota.

The North Dakota Youth Correctional Center in Mandan is home to more than 100 young offenders.

But the Youth First Initiative says such facilities are relics of the past, because they're expensive and often times don't have good outcomes for young offenders.

Liz Ryan, president and CEO of Youth First, says most juvenile prisons are indistinguishable from adult facilities.

"We actually have evidence about what works instead," says Ryan. "There are an array of community-based alternatives to incarceration that cost a fraction of what it costs to lock up and kid and produce much better outcomes for that young person."

The group also released a new poll showing about 77 percent of Americans favor changing the focus of the juvenile justice system from incarceration to rehabilitation.

Youth First says the U.S. has about 54,000 juveniles locked up. In North Dakota, the most expensive confinement option for a single youth offender costs more than $125,000 a year, compared to about 12,000 to put that young person through public school.

Ryan says despite how much money the state spends on incarceration, it still increases the likelihood that some youths will end up back behind bars as an adult.

"There's been very little support for them while they're inside," says Ryan. "And then, when they leave, they haven't been afforded the opportunities and supports to help them get back on track."

Additionally, Youth First notes that North Dakota locks up black and Native American youth at much higher rates than their white peers.

Ryan says redirecting money from the prisons to community programs could help end those disparities.





Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND