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Findings on locking up minors: a clear downside, need for change

We noted in a recent blog post national poll results indicating that a strong majority of Americans across the country readily view juvenile criminal offenders as being markedly different from adult offenders in most instances. As our December 29, 2014, blog post states, that viewpoint leads many Americans to routinely support outcomes “focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment through incarceration.”

Today’s post passes along study findings regarding the costs of juvenile incarceration that go far toward explaining why a “rehabilitation first” policy for juveniles ensnared in the criminal justice system is a sound idea in most cases.

Here’s one eye-opening reason, as stated by Marc Schindler, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a national nonprofit organization that conducted research on the matter: Schindler says that the price tag for confining a juvenile can be “about 10 times the cost of a K-12 public education.” The recently released JPI report notes that “the average costs [annually] of the most expensive confinement option” for juveniles in states across the country are about equal to the tuition outlay for a bachelors degree in a public college.

Of course, it’s not all about costs, notwithstanding how important that is to taxpayers. The JPI research also notes that juvenile offenders who are incarcerated rather than given alternatives to lock up-- such as mentoring, academic support, in-home counseling, probation and so forth -- have been shown as more likely to reoffend as adults.

The implications of that for communities and society in general are eminently clear.

Schindler says that when incarceration is properly looked at in terms of being one possible approach to juvenile crime, it would be “the least likely investment” that makes sense for taxpayers, parents and government officials.

As we have noted, a large -- and growing -- number of Americans are voicing agreement with that view.

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