Adolescence can be a challenging time as young people begin to transition to adulthood. When youth misbehave, they need held accountable with a measured response. Yet, Kentucky is one of three states that account for about 50 percent of all children across the nation incarcerated for things like skipping school or running away. The current method of incarcerating children instead of addressing the core problem puts public safety at risk by increasing the chances the youth will commit offenses in the future. Incarceration of youth for these behaviors also wastes public dollars on costly detention centers for children who do not pose a threat to public safety.
We know this can be done better. In the words of Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Hasan Davis, “If what they are running away from hasn’t been addressed, they will go back to running away.” Our youth committing these status offenses are being put at an extreme disadvantage due to their increased susceptibility to repeat offenses after release. This can be prevented through rigorous mentoring and monitoring of their needs and providing resource access to both the child and their families. By tackling the root problem, we can prevent Kentucky’s children from being incarcerated when they are young. Further, we can decrease the risk of re-incarceration as adults. Kentucky’s children are the future and they all deserve a chance to see it without bars.
The United States stands out among developed nations of the high rate of young people who are incarcerated – nearly five times higher than the next highest nation. Too many youth in the nation are incarcerated for non-violent, non-serious offenses. In a limited number of cases, it is necessary to commit a child to a detention center for public safety. All other cases could better be addressed by community-based alternatives and enhancing coping skills and family functioning.
Not only is incarcerating youth for non-serious crimes detrimental to their development as productive citizens, it is fiscally irresponsible. As one can imagine, it is much more expensive to transport and house a child away from home in a separate facility rather than offer in-home treatment or services in the community. Incarcerating youth for minor offenses can also increase the risk to public safety. Housing non-serious, non-violent offenders with those who have been involved in high-risk behaviors can lead to youth learning negative behaviors.
- See our May 2012 Issue Brief Ending the use of Incarceration for Status Offenses in Kentucky and accompanying press release.
- Are you satisfied with failure or are you ready to invest in success– This brochure by Kentucky Youth Advocates, The National Juvenile Justice Network, and the Tow Foundation, highlights the stark contrast between the cost of incarcerating a youth and his or her likely continued involvement with the criminal justice system compared with the cost of investments in helping a child become a successful, contributing member of society.
- In August 2011 we released Reclaiming Futures in Kentucky: Applying a Proven Framework to Respond Effectively to Status Offenses, a framework that identifies the critical stages of implementing a successful plan for youth who have been or are at risk of being charged with a status offense. See the press release.
- Blueprint Fact Sheet: Reduce the Use of Incarceration for Status Offenses – This fact sheet explains how Kentucky can stop locking up kids for things like skipping school and running away from home and reinvest the cost savings in evidence-based strategies.