06 October 2011

Colorado Juvenile Incarcerations Down 32% In Five Years

A nationwide shift from reliance of incarceration to treatment in dealing with juvenile delinquents is paying off in Colorado.

More restrained use of incarceration for juvenile delinquents in Colorado has reduced the number of juveniles who are incarcerated in the state by 32% in five years from 1,480 in 2006 to about the 1,000 juveniles currently incarcerated. This has brought Colorado back to 1998 juvenile incarceration levels and allowed the state to close two small juvenile detention centers. Funds saved by reducing inmate counts are helping to increase funding for treatment programs rather than reducing total juvenile corrections spending.

John Gomez, state youth corrections director. . . . credited programs that identified substance abuse, delinquency and familial problems earlier with reducing the number of youths entering the juvenile justice system. . . . The decrease in the number of kids going to secure youth facilities also happened as the state moved more kids out of locked facilities and into private community-based residential programs. Youths who primarily have a substance- abuse issue are getting treatment at a community facility instead of going to detention. . . . Officials are weighing the risks that kids pose to the community and making decisions whether to send them to detention or treatment based on those assessments, Gomez said. "We don't want to over-incarcerate kids," he said.

Doug Wilson, Colorado public defender, attributed some of the reduction in detentions to a push to reduce the number of juvenile offenders with lesser offenses being sent to locked detention facilities. "Why would you put truants in there?" he said.

There has been an emphasis on identifying which kids need help when they are very young and addressing their needs before they get deeper into trouble. . . . Social workers are meeting with juvenile justice professionals to intervene with kids early[.]

In short, Colorado is doing everything that liberals have advocated for years in the juvenile justice area and it is working well.

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