Can we Improve Outcomes for Justice-Involved Youth by Keeping Them Closer to Home?

By | September 17, 2018

Stoneleigh’s Senior Program Officer Marie Williams reflects on how keeping justice-involved youth closer to their families and communities, as opposed to sending them to distant residential placement facilities, can lead to better outcomes. 

Sending children far from home complicates and exacerbates inequities in the administration of justice. In most states, the “feeders” of the juvenile justice system tend to be urban centers where a disproportionate number of minorities often live. For various reasons, juvenile justice facilities also reflect this disproportionality. Yet, those facilities are often located in communities that are very different racially, ethnically and culturally than most of the young people who are sent there. This can make it challenging for staff to understand, empathize and work with the population in their care.

Anecdotally, defense counsel, advocates and practitioners report that urban youth often have difficulties acclimating and assimilating to rural or semirural settings, schools and sensibilities. Many in limited secure placements run away, others wrack up multiple infractions for failure to conform to highly subjective standards for “appropriate behavior” or “compliance.” As a result, stays and ultimate system involvement for minority youth can be prolonged.

The data also show that black and brown children are placed in secure confinement at a greater rate and for longer periods of time than their white counterparts, even though in more than two-thirds of cases, their placement is for nonviolent offenses, or technical violations of probation. Given this, their confinement and the distance from their home communities serve no public safety purpose.

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