Youth incarceration rates are going down, and that should make even the sternest law-and-order advocate happy.
The Kids Count Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports this week that in the last 10 years youth confinement in the United States has dropped by 40 percent overall. The numbers showed a steady decline from 92,721 in 2006, or a youth confinement rate of 289 per 100,000.
In 2013, the last year data were available, the U.S. put more than 54,000 young people in juvenile detention, correctional and residential facilities. That was 173 per 100,000. “While these numbers are moving in the right direction, there’s clear(ly) room for improvement,” the report said.
The U.S. confinement of juveniles also is “rife with racial inequities.” The Kids Count Data show:
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▪ In every state in the nation, African American youths have a greater risk of being placed in confinement compared with their white peers.
▪ Compared with white youths, national confinement rates are nearly twice as high for Latino youths, three times higher for Native American youths and about five times higher for African American youths.
▪ The two racial groups with the highest youth lockup rates — blacks and Native Americans — saw the smallest cuts to confinement over the last decade.
▪ In six states, the confinement rate is more than 10 times higher for African American kids than it is for white kids. This inequality is greatest in New Hampshire, where black youths are 36 times more likely to be locked up relative to their white counterparts.
That is odd because New Hampshire with 1.3 million people has an incredibly low black population. African Americans make up only 1.5 percent of the state’s population compared with a 13.2 percent African American population for the entire United States.
The overall rates for youth confinement in states varies greatly.
In Kansas, 1,053 youths were confined in 2006, giving the Sunflower State a 328 youth confinement rate per 100,000. The overall number was lowest in 2010 at 843, or 264 per 100,000. It rose a bit to 885 overall in 2013, or 278 per 100,000, placing Kansas fifth in the nation for youth confinement.
But the numbers are coming down as the Kansas Senate this week is discussing ways to reduce juvenile incarceration in favor of counseling and therapy programs. Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, said it was a way to fix the juvenile justice system. “We’re putting kids first, families first, while promoting public safety,” he said in The Kansas City Star.
Missouri, a larger state, had 1,293 youths confined in 2006, giving the Show-Me State a 223 youth confinement rate per 100,000. The numbers have steadily declined to 1,053 overall in 2013, or 191 per 100,000.
Both Kansas and Missouri were above the national youth confinement rate per 100,000.
The top 10 states for youth confinement using the comparative rate per 100,000 were South Dakota, 376; West Virginia, 294; Oregon, 281; Wyoming, 279; Kansas, 278; North Dakota, 253; Alaska, 241; Idaho, 236; Iowa, 227; and Indiana, 219.
Lowering the youth confinement rate is good for taxpayers. U.S. News & World Report, quoting Justice Policy Institute numbers, said states on average pay $407.58 a day, or $148,767 a year per person to keep a juvenile locked up. It makes sense that the incarceration rate is dropping with the declining crime rate. It also tracks with states struggling to cut cost during and after the Great Recession.
Lowering the cost of confining young people means states can invest more to educate children. Unfortunately, state dollars committed to elementary and secondary education are going down, too. In the United States overall the per pupil spending adjusted for inflation for elementary and secondary education fell 4.6 percent from $11,213 in 2008 to $10,700 in 2013, Governing the States and Localities reports.
Kansas in 2013 spent $9,828 per pupil for elementary and secondary education, a decrease of 7 percent from 2008 when the state spent $10,566 per pupil, according to Governing the States and Localities. Missouri spent $9,597 in 2013 per pupil for elementary and secondary education, a decrease of 4.7 percent from 2008 when the state spent $10,073.
What’s clear is states must step up their investment in children’s education if companies and the country are to have a competent and well-trained workforce in the future. States clearly know that incarceration and the school to prison pipeline not only isn’t the answer, but it is the worst and least productive way to put taxpayer dollars to good use.