Outlook can be bleak for juvenile offenders, study shows
A new study finds teens who are locked up in juvenile detention facilities tend to have worse outcomes later in life than those who avoid incarceration for the same types of offenses.
The MIT study finds youthful offenders who serve time in detention facilities have 13 percent lower high school graduation rates and are 23 percent more likely to wind up in jail as an adult.
The study looked at more than 35,000 cases in Illinois, but Cecelia Zalkind, the executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey stressed the findings are relevant to all states, and clearly support juvenile justice reforms that have been taking place in the Garden state for the past decade.
"For the past several years, New Jersey has been involved in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative project and that has significantly reduced the number of youth in detention, without any risk to public safety," she said.
The project recommends offering youthful offenders different types of education support, drug and mental health treatment programs while they're living at home, instead of locking them up.
"We know we have 121 much better outcomes for children when they can stay in their communities, go to their schools, they're in the community and not in a locked facility with other offenders," she said.
Zalkind said this is important because if a teen is locked up in detention it's a major disruption in their life.
"The youth is exposed to other youth who may have committed far more serious offenses. You're putting kids together kind of in a mixing bowl where they are exposed perhaps to behaviors that are not as positive," Zalkind said.
She added many of the reforms enacted in New Jersey are because we know more about adolescent brain development.
"A young person does not fully mature, the brain does not fully mature until the age of around 26, so this means those young ages, 14, 15, 16, when they're in detention, it's a time I think when they're most vulnerable to negative influences," she said.
According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, from1999 to 2011there was a 58 percent decline in New Jersey in the number of teenagers who are held in detention facilities.
In 1999 there were 2,385 kids locked up in juvenile detention, but by 2011,that number was down to 1,005, and New Jersey had 27 fewer juvenile facilities in 2012 than in 2000. It had been 57, but it dropped to 30.