Report signals urgent need for reform, investment in alternate, effective responses

The rate of youth incarceration in the United States decreased by 40 percent over the past 15-year period, according to “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” a new KIDS COUNT data snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  This report, scheduled for release on February 27, shows that despite the decline in the national rate, Nebraska is among just six states that have seen an increase in youth incarceration.
Between 1997 and 2010, youth incarceration grew 8 percent in Nebraska, contrary to the national trend. In 2010, a total of 750 Nebraska youth were incarcerated. With almost one of every 250 youth incarcerated, Nebraska’s rate of incarceration is the fourth highest in the entire nation. Rates of incarceration in our state are even more troubling for youth of color. In 2010, almost one of every 50 black youth and one of every 100 Native American youth were incarcerated in Nebraska.
The new KIDS COUNT data snapshot reports that the number of young people in correctional facilities on a single day fell to 70,792 in 2010, from a high of 107,637 in 1995. This downward trend, documented in data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, has accelerated in recent years.
Despite the nation-wide decline, the United States still leads the industrialized world in locking up its young people. And the majority of this country’s incarcerated youth are held for nonviolent offenses — such as truancy, low-level property offenses and technical probation violations — that are not clear public-safety threats.
“Locking up young people has lifelong consequences, as incarcerated youth experience lower educational achievement, more unemployment, higher alcohol and substance abuse rates and greater chances of run-ins with the law as adults,” said Bart Lubow, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.
“This report reveals the urgent need for reform to the systems that serve our youth in Nebraska,” said Carolyn Rooker, Executive Director of Voices for Children in Nebraska. “Incarcerating youth is harmful, ineffective, and extremely costly. As our state looks at juvenile justice reform this legislative session, we must focus on reducing our use of incarceration and building community-based alternatives that put our youth on a path to a bright future.”
Among the report’s recommendations for policymakers are:

·         Restricting incarceration to youth posing a clear risk to public safety;·         Investing in alternatives that supervise, sanction and treat youth in their homes and communities; and·         Encouraging states — which often have policies that provide unintended financial incentives for cities and counties to use incarceration — to seek community-based alternatives to locking up kids. 
“Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States” features the latest data for states, the District of Columbia and the nation, as does the KIDS COUNT Data Center, home to comprehensive national, state and local statistics on child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.