RI’s Youth Incarceration Rate Sees Dramatic Drop
Thursday, February 28, 2013
According a new report titled “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” the Ocean State has had a 42-percent decrease in the percentage of its young individuals in confinement, down from 426 individuals in 1997 to a total of 249 in 2010, the most recent year analyzed.
In all, RI youth were confined at a rate of 235 individuals per 100,000, which puts the Ocean State 20th overall in the category.
A Positive Trend
Rhode Island’s drop is tied percentage-wise with New York, South Carolina and Virginia for the 14th largest decline in the country and is five percentage points lower than the country’s 37-percent decline as a whole.
South Dakota had the country’s highest rate of incarcerated youth, with 535 individuals in confinement per 100K, and Vermont had the lowest, with just 53 overall.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which put out the KIDS COUNT data snapshot, the decline has come “with no decrease in public safety.”
The organization was quick to warn, however, that the US still leads “the industrialized world in locking up its young people,” and said that while the nation’s five largest racial groups all saw decreasing rates of confinement, there are still “much higher rates among youth of color.”
“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. “Our decreasing reliance on incarceration presents an exceptional opportunity to respond to juvenile delinquency in a more cost-effective and humane way — and to give these youth a real chance to turn themselves around.”
A Three-Decade Low
The report analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to show that the total number of incarcerated youth fell from a high of 107,637 nationwide in 1995 to a total of 70,792 on the day of study in 2010.
In addition, the organization studied trends in the percentage of incarcerated youth for the past 35 years and after a large rise from 1975 (241 incarcerated youth per 100K) to 1995 (381), the current rate has dropped to just 225.
In addition, the organization studied the trend by race to show that non-Hispanic whites were incarcerated at a rate of 127 per 100K while African Americans and American Indians continued to have disproportionately higher rates of 605 and 367 youth in confinement for every 100 thousand.
“The disparities in youth confinement rates point to a system that treats youth of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, more punitively than similar white youth,” the report said.
The foundation offered a number of suggestions in how the United States can keep its incarceration rate for young individuals on the decline.
Citing information that showed “only one of every four confined youth was locked up based on a Violent Crime Index offense” such as homicide, aggravated assault, robbery or sexual assault, the foundation suggested revising its eligibility for correctional placements.
“Safely reducing incarceration requires policies that restrict its use only to youth who pose a demonstrable risk to public safety,” it said. “States as politically diverse as Alabama, California and Texas, have recently revised their juvenile codes to explicitly prohibit commitments for less-serious offenses.”
In addition, the report said, states should invest in “promising alternatives to incarceration”, adopt better practices for supervising delinquent youth in their communities, change policies that better incentivize community-based alternatives to confinement and establish small “treatment-oriented” facilities for those who are confined.
“The U.S. juvenile justice system has relied far too heavily on incarceration, for far too long,” the report said. “The recent de-incarceration trend provides a unique opportunity to implement responses to delinquency that are more cost-effective and humane, and that provide better outcomes for youth, their families and communities.”
To see the full report, click here.
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