Posted by Tara Manthey on October 4th 2011
New Annie E. Casey Foundation report shows most youth imprisonment ineffective; AACF announces public education campaign for rigorous rehabilitation programs.
LITTLE ROCK - Child advocates today commended Arkansas for reducing the number of non-violent youths being incarcerated, but said more needs to be done to permanently shift youth justice programs away from costly and ineffective confinement toward rigorous community-based rehabilitation.
A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released today shows that America's heavy reliance on incarceration of youth is not paying off. "No Place For Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration" shows that youth prisons do not effectively rehabilitate young people, expose youth to violence and abuse, and waste taxpayer money.
"Kids who commit crimes should be held accountable for their actions and serve a reasonable punishment that fits their actions," said Paul Kelly, senior policy analyst at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. "But the reality is that almost every young offender will return to their communities. If we want to reduce crime in our neighborhoods and protect people from repeat offenders, we need to break the cycle of crime."
Young offenders should be required to complete rigorous, mandatory rehabilitations programs such as education, counseling, job training and drug treatment so they can become productive members of their communities, Kelly said.
Gov. Mike Beebe has recently dedicated more than $3 million in federal stimulus and state money to expand such rigorous rehabilitation programs. As a result, the state has reduced the number of children committed to the Arkansas Division of Youth Services by 24 percent in the past two years. The average time spent by youth in residential programs has decreased by 32 percent in three years. There are now 30 fewer beds needed at the state's largest secure facility.
Kelly said these results are a significant shift in corrections and demonstrate that-if fully adopted-the recommendations of the Arkansas Division of Youth Service's 50-member Arkansas Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform will improve public safety and reverse youth paths towards crime. The task force recommendations-crafted by judges, service providers, parents, advocates and other committed individuals-are available at: tinyurl.com/3p53v6u.
Despite the recent improvements, there is much more to be done, Kelly said. A significant percent of Arkansas kids are committed to DYS each year and taking up secure bed space at a cost of $44,000 to $87,000 annually. Yet many of the commitments are for misdemeanor offenses and pose low-to-moderate risks to public safety. In addition, the majority of them will return to their communities eventually and need education, counseling, addiction treatment and job training so they can become productive members of society and not repeat offenders.
AACF also today announced a public information campaign on the need to redesign youth justice programs. Working with community leaders, law enforcement, businesses, parents and the general public, the awareness campaign is supported by an 18-month grant from the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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