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Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

Justice Policy Institute: Cost-Effective Youth Corrections: Rationalizing the Fiscal Architecture of Juvenile Justice Systems

  • Organization: Justice Policy Institute
  • Document Type: Report
  • Date Created: Tuesday, April 18, 2006
  • Submitted: Tuesday, April 18, 2006
  • Attachment(s): PDF

In most states, juvenile delinquency is handled at the county-level, with youth being arrested by local police and processed in local courts. If they are adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to options such as drug treatment, mental health counseling, or community service, then the county must pay to provide these services. If the youth are sentenced to state secure confinement, however, they are sometimes sent to state institutions at little cost to the county. Locked confinement in a state institution is more expensive, sometimes running in excess of $60,000 annually compared to $10,000 or less for community supervision or services. In the 51 distinct juvenile justice systems that constitute how young people are treated in America's justice system, it is sometimes cheaper for localities in some states and jurisdictions to send youth to state institutions than it is for communities to develop services to treat youth close to home.

Such a financial architecture can lead to undesirable results. Counties often lack the financial means or incentive to expand local programs or services, so fewer of these options exist for youth than the demand would otherwise necessitate. Without local programs or services, judges may have little choice but to send youth convicted of marginal offenses to distant, locked facilities. As a result, youth have been locked in the state system simply because there was nowhere for them to go locally - and no easy way to pay for those services.

Several states have altered the fiscal architecture of their juvenile justice systems to reduce the inefficient, ineffective and sometimes damaging affect of state systems that make it cheaper to send youth to state secure care. Some states provide financial reimbursement for costs incurred by counties to manage youth locally while requiring the county to pay part of the cost of confining a child in a state institution. Other states have simply increased the costs for counties to send youth to state institutions, and programs have grown naturally in localities where there had previously been no incentive to develop them before. Others have either done both or augmented both, with dedicated state funding streams, or eased the ability to pull down federal dollars to fund more local juvenile justice programming. A number of states have shown that by rethinking how they fund their juvenile justice systems, states and localities can succeed in keeping more youth at home, reduce the number of youth incarcerated, and promote better outcomes for young people moving through these systems.

By Jasmine L Tyler; Jason Ziedenberg and Eric Lotke


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