Report Offers Insights on How to Trade Juvenile Incarceration for Community-Based Prevention

A new report from the Urban Institute looks at ways of redirecting savings from reduced youth incarceration, including using implementing new land-use strategies to fund public safety investment in the community.

A new report from the Urban Institute offers guidance for local jurisdictions on how to repurpose juvenile facilities, as well as how to “capture and redirect” savings from reduced reliance on incarceration, while maximizing state and federal funding streams to create a “continuum of care” for youth and families in their own communities.

With many jurisdictions looking to fund a greater array of community-based services in lieu of incarceration, the report provides a catalogue of new options that jurisdictions have used to address harmful youth behaviors without locking up juveniles.

The ideal continuum of care, according to the report, includes: crisis services, access to physical and mental health care, victims’ services, violence prevention programs, substance use treatment, educational and vocational supports, mentoring, therapy, and parenting and life skills classes.

The report highlights California’s Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund, which was started in 2018 to improve outcomes for juvenile justice system-involved youth through trauma-informed diversion and community-based services. A first batch of $37.3 million will be awarded to local governments to launch “evidence-based, trauma-informed, culturally relevant, and developmentally appropriate diversion programs in underserved communities with high rates of juvenile arrests and high rates of racial/ethnic disproportionality within those juvenile arrests.”

Savings realized through this system can also be reinvested, funding more community programs, and creating a self-sustained funding stream.

In other jurisdictions, reduced spending on juvenile lockups has meant more money to invest in community-based solutions. From the millions Washington, D.C., saved reducing juvenile incarceration arose a mentoring program that paired juvenile justice system-involved kids with adults with similar histories who could provide mentorship and guidance.

The report also suggests local governments consider repurposing shuttered juvenile camps and halls. In 2016, the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimated that there were 1,300 fewer juvenile lockups in operation than in 2000.

Repurposing those facilities can relieve “taxpayers of the financial burden of facility structure upkeep” while “creating a new community resource to fulfill a previously unmet need.” Additionally, transforming these facilities means they won’t be reopened as lockups for kids or adults in the future.

In Los Angeles, county leaders are repurposing camps into residential job training centers.

A North Carolina nonprofit organization is working to create a replicable model of a prison “flipped” into a farm and education center. This model aims to help improve youth outcomes by offering education and vocational training, while “ensuring sustainability by teaching lifelong skills and promoting healthy lifestyles through the provision of fresh, locally grown produce.”

Cities and counties can also sell or lease the land on which empty prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities sit, the report suggest. That money can then be funneled into community-based services.

In the city of Whittier, Calif., for example, a former juvenile facility on 75 acres was sold to a developer and turned into 750 homes, in an effort to address the city’s housing shortage. In Texas, leased land brings in $1 million annually for a nonprofit agency that has shifted away from residential treatment in recent decades. That money goes to counseling and education services for local kids.

Local governments can also generate funds by implementing new taxes, redirecting money from marijuana legalization, and implementing “pay for success” programs, among other strategies. A  parcel and parking tax passed in 2014 in Oakland generates approximately $8 million per year for violence prevention in the city, according to the report.

Finally, cities and counties must look at federal and state funds that support youth and families in other ways – through health care, child welfare, housing, workforce and other systems. “The population of youth and families accessing services from different systems including juvenile justice, child welfare, housing and public health overlaps significantly,” the report states. “These systems share responsibility for collaboratively addressing the needs of youth clients and their families, and state and federal funding streams outside the juvenile justice system can and do support services for youth who are, or are at risk of becoming, justice-involved.”

These funds can be combined, maximizing their benefit at the community level to create a continuum of care.

“Now is the time to end our reliance on youth incarceration and instead invest in community-based solutions which we know work better,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of the Youth First Initiative, in a press release. “We have long had the research that shows incarceration does more to hurt justice-involved youth than help. Now, we have the strategies and success stories to show how community-based care is not just possible but a winning strategy for communities and kids most affected by the youth justice system.”

Taylor Walker is the assistant editor of WitnessLA. A version of this story originally appeared there. 

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