The state of Kansas is sending too many young offenders to prison and should shift its focus to intensive rehabilitation programs, a new coalition of juvenile justice advocates said Tuesday.
Kansans United for Youth Justice is calling for changing the state’s juvenile justice system and is holding community meetings in the Kansas City area and across the state to highlight the issue.
In its first report, the group cited a recent study showing that 42 percent of Kansas youths sent to juvenile prison were incarcerated again within three years of being released.
Kansas spends more than $53 million a year to jail juvenile offenders or send them to out-of-home placements such as juvenile residential facilities. But national research shows such punishments are the most expensive and least effective responses to juvenile offenses, the coalition said.
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“The system in Kansas has gotten very much out of balance,” said Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit, anti-poverty advocacy group and coalition member.
“We’re sending a lot of kids to prison who really don’t need to be there, and that’s pulling the focus and funding away from intensive rehabilitation programs that do a much better job,” he said.
About 80 percent of juvenile offenders are low- and moderate-risk, he said.
“We’ve got to have a strong decision from the state that it’s going to draw the line, stop incarcerating children and beef up the local programs instead,” Magnuson said.
A community meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the main Kansas City, Kan., library, 625 Minnesota Ave.