Fewer youth behind bars

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National study shows drop in incarceration rates

There’s apparently been a major decline in the number of young people behind bars.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nationwide children’s advocacy group, released data late last month that highlights incarceration rates among people younger than 21. The study took the numbers from a single day in 1997 for the nation and compared those to a single day in 2010.

The same was done for each state and the District of Columbia. The rate per 100,000 youth was used to compute the figures.

Nationwide, the rate of incarcerated youth fell 37 percent from 1997 to 2010. In South Carolina, the decline was 42 percent, with 1,584 youth behind bars in 1997, compared to 984 in 2010.

County-level data wasn’t provided in the report.

The foundation’s statistics are from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The most recent numbers available are from 2010.

Bart Lubow, director of the foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, spoke about the trend.

“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,” Lubow said.

“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.”

Despite the incarceration statistics, Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile says there is still a major problem with youth offenders in Lancaster County.

He believes more focus on alternative services – such as mentoring programs and counseling – will have a positive effect. Encouraging more parental involvement is also key, he said.

“We have to focus as much as we can on the youth,” Faile said. “Keep them educated on the consequences involved.”

More data
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s data is based off surveys of juvenile residential facilities across the United States. They were either long-term facilities (such as training schools) or short-term facilities, which include shelters and detention centers.

Among the 50 states and District of Columbia, Tennessee had the greatest decrease in its incarceration rate at 66 percent. Connecticut was second with a 65 percent drop, followed by Arizona with a decrease of 57 percent.

Six states, though, had an increase in incarceration rate when comparing 1997 to 2010.

Idaho, as an outlier, saw its rate increase 80 percent. West Virginia was next with a 60 percent rise.

The next highest increases were in Arkansas (20 percent), Nebraska (8 percent), South Dakota (8 percent) and Pennsylvania (7 percent).