May 9, 2007

Quiet revolution in juvenile justice

Who would have predicted that locking up fewer youths might improve community safety?

With California’s juvenile prisons plagued by violence and scandals, a quiet revolution is taking place on the local level, as more and more counties send their youthful offenders to intensive treatment programs rather than the California Youth Authority.

Paralleling the drop in incarceration has been a dramatic drop in juvenile crime. As James Sterngold of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the juvenile arrest rate for serious felonies has fallen by more than half while the state’s imprisonment of youth has dropped from a peak of 285 (in 1988) to just 65 per 100,000. In 2005, only about 3% of the 219,000 juveniles arrested in California were sent to state facilities.

Rather than punishing youths, local treatment programs focus on teaching them new skills and behaviors. The families – a big part of these youths’ problems – are also included in the treatment.

The turn-around is being heralded as “the huge, untold story” in corrections. "What we're seeing is the exact reverse of the old argument that said the only thing that works is incapacitating these juveniles. The crime rates are falling as we got less tough, not tougher," the Chronicle quotes the president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency as stating.

Indeed, the new model is working so well that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would like to see it expanded to include some younger prisoners in the adult correctional system.

For more information on crime and juvenile justice, check out the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice at: