A recent study published by the Harvard Kennedy School found community-based youth programs to be more effective and less costly than juvenile facilities. This is not surprising to us who work in the field. The youth prison model is inherently flawed.
The authors of this study state that juvenile facilities are “devoid of the essentials required for healthy adolescent development.” These facilities fail to provide positive connections with adults that youth need. They fail to provide opportunities for academic success. Instead, youth are given a peer group unable to model pro-social behavior. These facilities only worsen the trauma that most young offenders have already experienced.
Youth prisons are not just a failed strategy, their financial costs are enormous. According to a 2015 report by the Justice Policy Institute, taking length of stay into account, 34 states report spending $100,000 or more a year to incarcerate one young person. While the cost of incarceration varies from state to state, it averages $401 per day.
Community-based Youth Intervention programs are clearly superior to youth prisons. This should not be surprising with everything we know about healthy adolescent development. Community-based Youth Intervention programs are purposely designed to give young people the connections they need to develop better decision-making skills and pro-social attitudes.
Youth tell us these programs work. Youth participating in community-based Youth Intervention programs self-report that they feel more prepared to live independently as an adult according to a study by Wilder Research.
Positive outcomes come at what price? The average cost of a Youth Intervention program is just $2,000 per year/per youth. Compare that cost to the average cost of $146,302 per youth in juvenile facilities. It is clear that it is fiscally prudent to support a community-based approach.
While the evidence is clear that community-based Youth Intervention programs work, they remain woefully underfunded.
Communities can only begin replacing costly and ineffective juvenile detention models when they have the resources to provide community-based programs. But they lack those resources. We see this in Minnesota. In 2015, $16 million in state support was requested by community-based Youth Intervention programs in Minnesota, but the Legislature only allocated $6.5 million. How can these organizations, with proven positive outcomes, possibly make up the difference?
Sound policy occurs when politicians understand the reality in our community and the priorities of individuals. The Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA) advocates for funding community-based programming through the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Bill – a grant administered by the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs.
Seldom in American policy is the evidence more clear: Investing in community-based Youth Intervention is effective, fiscally prudent and far better for public safety.
Maggie Dudley is the Membership Director for YIPA. She can be reached at 612-236-4715 or at [email protected].