Wasted money, wasted youth: Incarcerating juveniles in California

America has the unfortunate distinction of incarcerating more of its own citizens than any other country on earth. The problem has been especially vexing here in California, which has long suffered from serious prison overcrowding.

Thankfully, nearly all states are moving away from long-term incarceration for non-violent offenders, leading to reduced populations in both adult and juvenile incarceration facilities. Still, studies show that states are still relying too heavily on incarceration as a response to juvenile crime. Not only is incarceration of juveniles costly, it also tends to be less effective and less humane than community-based rehabilitation programs.

A group called the Justice Policy Institute recently released a report entitled “ Youth Incarceration.” According to the report, California spends $208,338 per inmate per year to incarcerate juvenile offenders (based on the most expensive confinement option). This breaks down to $570.79 per juvenile inmate per day. California’s annual per-inmate costs are about 71 percent higher than the national average of $148,767.

In light of the fact that a significant number of juvenile inmates are non-violent offenders and do not need to be locked up for public safety reasons, this is arguably a huge waste of taxpayer money. Community programs are far less expensive. According to the report: “Community?based programming that can create wraparound services for youth, individualize services based on the unique needs of each youth, engage the family, and connect the youth to neighborhood resources can cost as little as $75 per day.”

More importantly, incarceration often makes it very difficult for juvenile offenders to reintegrate and to become productive members of society upon their release. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that incarceration may increase the risk of recidivism rather than lower it.

Thankfully, many juvenile offenders are at little to no risk of being incarcerated. Rather, California laws tend to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment for juvenile offenders, when possible.

That being said, good legal representation can make a huge difference in how a juvenile offender is charged and what kind of sentence he faces if convicted. If your son or daughter is facing criminal charges related to juvenile crime, you can’t afford to take chances. Please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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