SEATTLE - Almost two-thirds of Washington young people who have been incarcerated are back in court for a new offense within three years of their release.
A new report
from the Annie E. Casey Foundation
sheds light on that figure, with evidence that youth correctional facilities don't stop recidivism, don't benefit public safety and even waste taxpayer dollars.
Washington already is moving away from residential juvenile corrections facilities and toward more community-based programs. Michael Curtis, managing director of the Center for Children and Youth Justice
, says it is also the only state with what is known as a "presumptive sentencing" system, to minimize the number of young people who are incarcerated.
"Depending on the seriousness of the offense and the kid's criminal history, it determines whether the kid should remain in the community and have a community sanction, or if they should be sentenced to a state institution."
Curtis notes that state budget cuts have stalled a plan to open some small, regional facilities for young offenders. Smaller, treatment-based options are among the report's recommendations to help states improve their juvenile justice outcomes.
Bart Lubow, the Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, says it's time for states to adopt policies and invest in alternatives which focus on treatment and supervision.
"Comprehensive, well-thought-out strategies in state juvenile-justice systems that will not only ensure that there's fewer kids locked up but that will ensure that there's less crime, and less money spent, and that kids have better odds of being successful in adulthood."
Curtis believes the roots of the problem aren't being addressed early enough, in schools or in the justice system.
"Our state is sorely lacking in mental health services for children. And so many kids involved in the juvenile justice system, had there been any kind of intervention, the likelihood of them being involved in behavior that results in them coming into the juvenile justice system would have been reduced."
The report recommends limiting youths' length of stay in correctional facilities and giving top priority to family intervention, vocational training, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
The full report, "No Place for Kids, The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration," is online at aecf.org