Juvenile Crime Drop Prompts New Look at Policies
Experiments are underway in a number of states aimed at making dramatic changes in the treatment of juvenile crime. In part they are a reaction to the fact that while FBI reports show juvenile crime dropping across the country, state juvenile corrections costs continue to be high.
Some scholars see this cost as a missed opportunity. "The scale of incarceration is not simply a reaction to crime. It is a policy choice," write Jeffery A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in their new report on juvenile incarceration. Evans and Butts argue that "realignment" models, or models that stress rehabilitation in the community over confinement in state prisons, are the most effective for rehabilitating kids and saving money on juvenile corrections.
Efforts to shift the cost burden of juvenile justice from the state to the county level are currently underway in California and Illinois. California's Governor Jerry Brown recommended eliminating the state's Division of Juvenile Facilities earlier this year, but reached a compromise with the legislature on passage of a bill mandating that youth be sent to state facilities only if there's been an agreement with the county. All other youths will be treated at the county level, which saves the state money.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recently signed into law HB 83 , which requires judges in juvenile court to impose only the "least restrictive alternative based on evidence" and to consider community-based treatment when sentencing a juvenile.
But New York may be the most dramatic example. Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for closing all state facilities and investing in community-based programs, which would improve outcomes for youth and be cheaper for the state. "Guess how much it costs per year to keep a person in a juvenile justice facility?" the governor asked a group in Harlem on September 18. "Over $200,000 per year. $200,000! You could've sent that person to Harvard University and it would be cheaper. We're going to take that money and provide it in community-based services so the problem doesn't happen in the first place."
New York's chief judge agrees that the treatment of juveniles should be geared more towards rehabilitation. The New York Times reported that Judge Jonathan Lippmann is proposing that the state should stop automatically charging 16-and-17-year-old offenders as adults and move the less violent crimes to family court, where there are more services available for youth. New York and North Carolina are the only states that automatically treat 16-year-olds as adults.