The nation's antiquated juvenile-justice system needs a complete overhaul, and should implement newly tested strategies in response to delinquency and juvenile crime, a national study about children recommended today.
Douglas W. Nelson, president and chief executive of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which released the national study, KIDS COUNT, said that juvenile-justice policy had been shaped by "misinformation, hyperbole and political prejudices," which resulted in "poorly conceived strategies."
These strategies "often increase crime, endanger young people and damage their future prospects, waste billions of taxpayer dollars and violate our deepest held principles about equal justice under the law," he added.
In an essay titled "A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform," Nelson urges officials in the juvenile-justice system to re-evaluate their treatment of children.
Nelson suggests some solutions: reduce confinement; reduce racial disparities; increase effective community services; empower families to help youth succeed; keep youth out of the system; and, if there is confinement, make sure the facility is safe, children are healthy and that they have constructive programs.
Nationally, Nelson said, police made 2.2 million juvenile arrests in 2006, of which 1.7 million were referred to courts. An estimated 400,000 went through juvenile-detention centers and nearly 100,000 were confined in jails, boot camps or other residential facilities.
The study found that Pennsylvania treats its youth, particularly those of color who commit violent or nonviolent crimes, more severely than the national average.
In 2006, Pennsylvania had 4,323 youths ages 10 to 15 detained, or in custody. That amounts to 138 per 100,000 detained or in custody in the state, compared to 125 per 100,000 in the U.S.
Seven times more children of color than white youth were jailed in Pennsylvania, whereas 3-to-1 were in custody nationally.
Violent-crime arrests were higher in Pennsylvania - at 418 per 100,000 - than in the nation - at 283 per 100,000. And 72 percent of the children in custody were charged with nonviolent offenses in the state, 66 percent nationally.
- Kitty Caparella