A recent report published by the Youth Advocate Programs Policy & Advocacy Center (YAP) in partnership with John Jay College of criminal justice reveals new insights on how communities can support high-risk youth to keep them out of the criminal justice system. The Safely Home Campaign "is a nationwide movement to safely care for all youth and young adults in their home communities and with their families" (See www.safelyhomecampaign.org).
The key findings from the report show that lack of effective community alternatives contribute to youth incarceration. These programs range from education based initiatives, to coaching, anger management and physical activity initiatives. It’s not enough to have community driven programs for high-risk offenders specifically, but communities that implement programs for all youth do a better job of reducing incarceration numbers. Subsequently, the study states that community driven programs are better run than those provided by an institution. There’s also the financial consideration: the study determined that that return on investment for community based programs is 4:1 over the cost of incarcerating an at-risk youth. For example, in upstate New York, instead of incarcerating an at-risk juvenile in a theft case, the state put him through a tiered community based program. First he had to plead his case with the town Superintendent who gave him tasks like volunteering maintenance services at community parks and assistance on planning the 4th of July event. In addition, this young man also implemented a free car wash for citizens and bagged groceries for the elderly.
There are many examples nationwide of how community based programs are working effectively. The number of incarcerated youth in the state of Alabama has been reduced by 55% since 2006 with an 87% success rate for those in community programs (success being not sent back to jail). These numbers follow a similar trajectory in other states such as Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Ohio specifically has seen a 72% decrease since 2009—this a result of leadership by Deborah Hodges, a Juvenile Court Administrator and Judge Denise Cubbon. They began to hold staff accountable for the types of cases that lead to detention and limited the number of beds available at centers. A few suggestions for states nationwide include not building new juvenile facilities, increasing the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, creating supplementary community-based re-entry programs to accompany aftercare and parole, redirecting decarceration savings into specific and targeted community services based on need, and lastly allowing at-risk juveniles to have a voice in their post-incarceration treatment.
Kathryn Boortz has a passion for working with youth and their families. She is the founder of Boortz Law, a law firm that focuses on juvenile defense.