from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico
SANTA FE, N.M. - When kids act up, locking them up is the wrong thing to do, in most cases. A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delivers that finding. The foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, Bart Lubow, says decades of research, along with new data, show that putting kids behind bars does not keep them from committing crimes later.
The report also warns that the practice does not provide public safety benefits, wastes taxpayer money and exposes young people to violence and abuse. And, in almost every case, the "crimes" committed are minor, Lubow says.
"The majority are either charged with non-violent offenses or are there primarily for acts of defiance relative to an adult."
The report notes that several states are already moving away from relying on juvenile incarceration, mainly because of budget woes or scandals over abuse in institutions. More than 50 facilities have been shut down since 2007 nationwide.
David Schmidt, state director of the New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency, says the state has changed who is and is not incarcerated, and that has reduced the need for detention facilities.
"Sometimes, when you have a fiscal crisis and are facing the closing of facilities, it can be a blessing in disguise. We have to look at alternatives, rather than taking the easy way out and incarcerating children."
Another aspect of the report identifies how kids end up in the juvenile justice system in the first place, Lubow explains.
"The largest single source of new referrals to juvenile courts is the public schools, which are enforcing zero-tolerance requirements and using police officers to supplant the disciplinary functions schools used to exercise."
The report makes six recommendations to help states change their juvenile incarceration systems. "No Place for Kids, the Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration," is available at www.aecf.org.
Richard Alan reporting, email@example.com