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Arkansas Study: Rehabilitation Better Than Prison for Non-violent Youthful Offenders

Advocacy group says the state saves lots of money when these individuals are not locked up.
A new Arkansas study finds that locking up non-violent youthful offenders is costly and ineffective.

That's according to Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

The group says its research finds that using community-based alternatives to incarceration – like education, job training, drug treatment, and rehabilitation programs – saves the state $41,786 per youth and reduces their chances of ending up back in the juvenile justice system.

The report, “Serving Non-violent Youthful Offenders in Their Communities: The Costs and Benefits of a More Effective Juvenile Justice System in Arkansas,” looked at Arkansas data on non-violent youthful offenders to determine the costs and benefits of placing youth in secure confinement and alternatives to incarceration. In addition to reducing the state’s cost per youth, using community alternatives reduced crime and led to an increase of $171,245 in earnings over the lifetime of the youth. This produces a total cost benefit of more than $200,000.

Most youthful offenders do not pose a serious threat to public safety and do not need to be confined. Using secure confinement to lock up youth who do not pose a serious threat is a waste of taxpayers’ money and diminishes the likelihood of rehabilitation and a brighter future for young offenders. The state spends $29.5 million annually for confining youth committed to the custody of the Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services (DHS DYS). The recidivism rate for kids in Arkansas’s secure juvenile facilities is 46.5 percent.

AACF Senior Policy Analyst Paul Kelly authored the report. He says 80 percent of youth incarcerated at Arkansas correctional facilities from 2009 to 2013 were deemed to be a low or moderate risk to public safety.

“There is ample evidence that using secure confinement for low- or moderate-risk youthful offenders is not cost-effective and it’s not achieving the results desired when you compare it to proven-effective community alternatives,” Kelly says. “Arkansas has already shown its capacity to reduce secure confinement of low-risk offenders, save money, and reinvest the savings in more effective programs. But we can achieve even greater cost savings and improve the outcomes for rehabilitated youth.”

According to the report, overall commitments, commitments for misdemeanor convictions, and length of stay for secure confinement have all been reduced in the past three years. This was achieved by making better use of local community-based programs to serve low- and moderate-risk offenders as an alternative to incarceration.
“Using community-based programs as an alternative to locking these kids up is really a win, win,” Kelly says. “It saves the state money, it reduces the chances that these kids will end up back in the system, and it gives them a shot at a better future.”

Click here to read the full six-page report.
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