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Report details why locking up juvenile offenders does more harm than good

Making mistakes is a major part of growing up and learning how to navigate life. Unfortunately, for some kids, mistakes related to drug use and possession, robbery, assault and drunk driving can have serious consequences that result in criminal charges. Mistakes are part of life and when a young person appears to be headed down the wrong path, it benefits all of society if measures are taken and employed to help a youth succeed.

While at face value the rationale mentioned above makes sense, a recent report by the Justice Policy Institute details how far too many juveniles in the U.S. are being locked up and incarcerated rather than provided with the help and counseling they desperately need. As a result, the lives of these young boys and girls are irreparably changed as negative experiences within the criminal justice system lead many down a path of recidivism and despair.

In addition to the high personal costs associated with incarcerating juveniles, reliance on incarceration as a punishment and deterrent for future criminal acts comes at a great cost to taxpayers. In North Carolina, the daily costs associated with incarceration average $437.67 per day, whereas the JPI report notes that many "community-based programs that provide individualized services cost as little as $75 per day."

While some may contend that locking up juveniles is the best way to teach youth offenders a lesson, research proves otherwise. Incarceration not only exposes juveniles to the risk of assaults while detained, but is also linked to increased rates of recidivism. Moreover, simply locking juveniles up does nothing to help a young individual learn better coping and problem solving skills which are necessary to make a successful transition into adulthood.

The JPI report provides recommendations for how to reduce the rate of juveniles who are incarcerated in the U.S. including increased funding of "community-based options for youth", exploring and investing in alternative sentencing options and improved mechanisms for how cases of success and recidivism are tracked and measured.

For some teens who get into trouble with the law and are incarcerated, their entire futures are jeopardized. It's critical, therefore, that juveniles who are facing criminal charges take such charges seriously and contact a criminal defense attorney.

Source: Justice Policy Institute, "Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarcerations," December 2014

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