New Report: Youthful Incarceration

Today’s post is all about Youth Justice. Justice Policy Institute released a report a few days ago – $TICKER $HOCK about the cost of incarcerating youthful lawbreakers. Below you will find a link to the full report, a summary of the recommendations, and an article about the need for retroactivity when a youth is sentenced to life without parole (LWOP).

Justice Policy Institute, December 2014, 56 pages

“How should a community hold juvenile offenders accountable for their offending behavior while ensuring the public safety? As a growing body of evidence underscores the detrimental effects that system involvement and confinement can have on healthy adolescent development, many jurisdictions are examining and developing ways to divert nonserious offenders from entering the system and to improve conditions of confinement for youth in the system.”

Robert Listenbee, Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice (2014)


“It’s just always that problem that people don’t understand. You have to spend money to save money. Soft-cost issues are tough to prove economically, but the reality is, by keeping a child out of prison, we save this county $170,000 a year.”

Montgomery County, Ohio, Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi (2014)

We believe that there are ways to reduce the price we all pay for our poor policy choices, and instead find more effective ways to help young people successfully transition to adulthood, hold young people accountable for delinquency, and keep our communities safe. To achieve those goals, and reduce our short‐term and long‐term costs, we need to expand the definition of costs and benefits in our justice system and broaden the picture of how we account for success in juvenile justice.

To help the field move forward towards cost‐ conscious, more effective, and fairer juvenile justice policies, JPI recommends the following:

1)      Reduce spending on confinement and shift funding to community‐based options for youth. There are circumstances when a young person may need to be placed out of the home and confined. That said,incarceration should be the last resort, not the first resort, for every juvenile justice system in the country. To help support creating a system that is right‐sized—where youth are placed appropriately depending on their risk of reoffending and their needs— policymakers should take a page from therecent lessons learned in places that have seen reductions in youth incarceration, and they should shift public dollars from the most restrictive, most expensive options to community‐based options fortreatment and supervision that keep young people at home, or close to home.


2)      Invest appropriately in juvenile justice, particularly in the right parts of the youth‐serving system. The 2008 recession helped accelerate juvenile justice reform by pushing policymakers to justify the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent on youth confinement against the poor outcomes (or lack thereof) being generated. But as state, county, and city governments saw budgetary pressures, key parts of the juvenile justice continuum that help reduce delinquency early on have been strained: when alternatives to incarceration, diversion, and primary prevention are cut to make up the difference in a budget shortfall, it can increase long‐term costs on the system by leading more young people to end up in the most expensive places. Given the huge costs associated with incarceration, policymakers need to investmore in alternatives to incarceration, diversion, and primary prevention, and they should be investing earlier on— upstream. The lesson from the states and jurisdictions that can spend $100,000 per youth incarcerated on an annual basis is that policymakers should be investing earlier on—upstream. Because the adolescent development research suggests that young people engage in delinquency because it is normative, we need to provide the right services to the right young people at the right time. And there is research that demonstrates that the public has shown “willingness to pay” more tax dollars for approaches that concretely solve youth development and public safety challenges that relate to delinquency.


3)      Address all the barriers that exist to reducing reliance on confinement in states and localities. From state to state and locality to locality, there are barriers to reducing the confinement of young people. Barriers include mandatory sentencing where there is no evidence that a longer term of confinement will produce any benefit, lack of alternatives to incarceration, reentry practices that do not plan for a young person’s return home effectively, laws that see low‐level youth unnecessarily confined, and lack of consistent funding streams to support less expensive, more effective community services. In every state, policymakers should identify barriers to reducing needless reliance on confinement, consistent with the evidence, best practices, and what can be learned from other jurisdictions. 

4)      Improve system capacity to measure recidivism and track positive outcomes.Recidivism is one measure of the juvenile justice systems performance, and an important one. But any young person—whether court‐involved, confined, or not—needs more than to just “not reoffend” to successfully transition to adulthood. Along with improving thesystem’s ability to measure recidivism, systems should measure positive outcomes for youth that reflect their successful transition to adulthood. The Positive Youth Justice  model advanced by John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center and the Sierra Health Foundation represents an important step in broadening the approach to serving youth, and it is being applied by the Washington, D.C., Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, among others.

5)      Develop consistent standards for measuring per diem and confinement costs from place to place. Every state has different standards for calculating the costs of confinement. California’s Board of Corrections includes the “percentage of administration used for youth facility administration.” Alongside a per diem cost of confinement, the Department of Youth Service in Ohio publishes a “marginal cost” that includes food, clothing, medical care, and treatment costs per youth, but excludes “all payroll andequipment costs,” something that make the single reduction of a young person’s confinement less expensive than it might be. Maryland excludes educational costs in its per diem rates. JPI recommendsthat corrections administrators, their associations, the professional associations that represent state budget offices, and legislative professionals explore ways to develop a standard definition of per diem and annual costs that would help jurisdictions determine how to calculate costs, allowing for consistency from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and providing the foundation for research and cost‐benefit analyses. The recent Council of Juvenile Corrections Administrators White Paper: Defining and Measuring Recidivism and attendant recommendations on recidivism might provide a roadmap for aprocess the field might undertake.


6)      Expand executive and legislative capacity to develop cost‐benefit analysis. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has advanced policy development in Washington and the entire country by working with its legislature to develop long‐term cost‐benefit analysis on criminal justice policy. Rather than simply relying on a definition of costs that focuses on annual budgets, WSIPP provides policymakers with an analysis of criminal and juvenile justice policy that accounts for long‐term costs of policy choices, including recidivism, and the long‐term benefit to taxpayers when policy choices reduce criminal justice costs in the long term. There have been sporadic initiatives and efforts in states to incorporate a cost‐benefit analysis in juvenile justice: these broadly include the work of the Cost Benefit Analysis Unit at the Vera Institute of Justice (including their work around efforts to analyze the benefit of moving 16‐ and 17‐year‐olds into the juvenile justice system), the Pew Charitable Trust’s Results First initiative and Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission  and system reform initiatives, such as the Standard Program Evaluation Protocol.  Other states should consider expanding the mandate of their legislative and executive research arms to include cost‐benefit analysis in their review of juvenile justice policy. The expansion should seek to include the impact of choosing policies that increase the likelihood that young people will complete and succeed in school and work opportunities. Given what we already know about the immediate and long‐term costs of poor policy choices, policymakers should resource public capacity in government to analyze policy to reduce reliance on the most expensive, least effective ways to change individual behaviors.


7)      Expand research opportunities to study the long‐term costs of confinement and juvenile justice system contact. The estimate contained in this brief is one of a few attempts to build a comprehensive picture of the long‐term costs of needlessly and inappropriately relying on youth incarceration and out‐of‐home placement. The reason that only a handful of studies were used to advance these estimates has to do with the fact that limited scholarship has been funded and supported to isolate the impact of confinement on youth, their families, and our communities. More work needs to be done to advance the field. Building on the work from the National Research Council of the National Academies’ studies of juvenile justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention should work with other federal and state agencies to expand scholarship opportunities on cost‐benefit in juvenile justice and youth service policy.

Just Kids
Could a recent Supreme Court decision give juvenile lifers a second chance?
Matt Stroud, In These Times, Dec. 30, 2013

Raising hope

“Pennsylvania has sentenced more juveniles to life in prison than any other state in the country. Out of the 2,500 or so prisoners sentenced to life without parole before turning 18 in the United States, about 500 are in Pennsylvania. Michigan and Louisiana are competing for second place with about 350, and Florida and California follow with about 250 each. Missouri and Illinois both have about 100. The rest are scattered around the country in states that tend to avoid sentences of juvenile life without parole—or JLWOP—in all but the most heinous crimes. A handful of states have no JLWOP prisoners. …

“For people such as Bobbi Jamriska, Pennsylvania’s director of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, Pennsylvania’s JLWOP decision was a win. In 1993, Jamriska’s pregnant sister was killed by a 16-year-old who is serving a life-without parole sentence.

“’You cannot go back and change the past,’ she says. ‘The folks that were sentenced prior to Miller were sentenced under the law at the time. To go back and try to take that away has been very traumatic to the victims.’

“On the other side of the argument are people such as Jeffrey Shook, an associate professor of social work at the University of Pittsburgh who studies the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system. ‘The spirit of Miller was that kids are different and they shouldn’t be held to these mandatory sentences,’ he says. Pennsylvania’s decision, he says, ‘creates two arbitrary classes of offenders based simply upon when a decision was handed down by a judge. That’s not a solid basis for justice.’”

All the research on brain development that Kat has read finds that the frontal cortex (the executive center of the brain) is not fully developed until a person is in their mid-20s. Hawai`i eliminated JLWOP last session, however there has been no commutation of the small number of people serving this sentence, despite a letter requesting Governor Abercrombie to do so. If the US Supreme Court renders a decision favoring retroactivity for this population, that would entitle these incarcerated persons to a parole hearing.



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