05_teenagers_r_wKentucky has seen substantial progress in the past couple of years on the number of youth locked up in Kentucky. As Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley shared in a recent interview, we’ve safely reduced the youth prison population by half by focusing on community-based services. This matters for kids, because research shows that adolescence is a time when children’s brains are still under construction and the architecture of the brain is being built. The trauma of being locked up can impact a youth’s ability to successfully return to the community and become a contributing member.

Last week, Harvard’s Kennedy School and the National Institute of Justice released a report – The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model – that underscores the importance of continuing Kentucky’s momentum. According to the report, the research is clear that youth prisons don’t work – they don’t work for the kid, and they don’t work for making our communities safer.

To do what’s best for kids, families, and communities, Kentucky can build on the strong foundation of reforms started under SB 200. That means continuing to make sure we’re not using incarceration when a community-based option would get better results for the child at less cost to the taxpayer. It also means taking the savings expected from the reforms and reinvesting them in programs that can give families and youth the tools they need – in their community – to get youth on track to becoming successful adults.

Investing in young people through community-based services has proven to keep youth from committing additional crimes. Youth prisons just don’t work.