Looking for a succinct, convincing brief to support your case that keeping teens out of the justice system actually cuts crime and saves money?
Look no further than the Justice Policy Institute's (JPI) new brief, The Costs of Confinement: Why Good Juvenile Justice Policies Make Good Fiscal Sense. For example, check out the charts on pp. 10-11. They show that the 10 states that lowered youth populations the most in juvenile justice facilities between 1997-2006 saw violent offenses go down 9%, and non-violent offenses dropped by 16%.
Yet the 10 states who put the most kids into juvenile justice facilities during the same time period saw their violent offenses go up by 8%. While their non-violent offenses did decline, they only declined by an average of 10% -- a 6% smaller drop than was seen in states who locked up fewer kids.
(JPI has also put out a similar brief on adult corrections, Pruning Prisons: How Cutting Corrections Can Save Money and Protect Public Safety.)
Unfortunately, a JPI analysis of the 2010 federal budget suggests that the President's spending plan will lead to increased incarceration.
Part of the problem is that in the current budget climate, jurisdictions are reluctant to pay for the necessary alternative programming that youth and adults in the justice system need to be successful -- even though these programs are always much cheaper than incarceration and return many dollars for each dollar invested. Here's some random examples collected from recent news stories:
- Despite previous promises to use money saved from closing a secure youth facility, Louisana's Office of Juvenile Justice used some of the money to expand another secure youth facility, and said the rest was swallowed by budget cuts. And funds for other youth crime prevention programs in the state are disappearing, too.
- Meanwhile, Santa Clara County, CA is going to close its day reporting center for youth, opened only three years ago, and apparently Santa Cruz might have close its own reporting center, too.
On the other hand, Florida's Legislature has evaluated the state's Redirection program for youth in the justice system and found that it saved taxpayers $36 million and decreased recidivism of youth 18 and older by 66 percent in four years of operation. Redirection has invested in evidence-based programs like Functional Family Therapy (FFT), Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST), and Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT).
To sum up: the evidence shows that jurisdictions that keep kids out of the justice system -- or intervene by providing comprehensive, coordinated services (including, where needed, alcohol and drug treatment) -- save money and cut crime. Those jurisdictions that can convincingly argue that their own programming serves kids effectively in the community will be in the best position when the budget axe falls. Reclaiming Futures, in other words, looks like just what the doctor ordered.
UPDATE Feb. 2, 2011: Despite research such as this, A&E's recent reality TV show, "Beyond Scared Straight," purposely increases teens' contact with adult prison inmates in an attempt to terrify them into “going straight." Turns out doing nothing is actually more effective than this strategy. Check out these facts about the program from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ).
Updated: February 08 2018