3/18/2013 2:14:00 PM Alternatives to juvenile detention is offering a big pay off in Washington state
Chris Thomas Washington News Service
In Washington, the number of young people incarcerated fell 50 percent between 1997 and 2010. In a new report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation said states making the most headway in juvenile justice are those that are expanding community-based alternatives to detention. Laura Speer, AECF associate director of policy and research, said for most young offenders, there are better alternatives close to home than being locked up. "We've gotten to where we are because the research is pretty clear that incarcerating young people, especially those who don't pose a demonstrable public safety risk, is not a smart thing to do," she said. "It doesn't work." One challenge cited in the report is also a top priority in Washington's current juvenile justice plan: a racial gap. Nationally, African-American youth are five times more likely to be incarcerated as their white peers. For Latino and American Indian youth, it's two to three times more likely. Ryan Pinto, director of the Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice, said police often jail young people for minor offenses when they don't have local alternatives. Yakima opened the first alternative site for young offenders and there's a bill in the legislature to create others. Pinto said community-based programs also save money. "We averaged around the state about $200 a day to put a youth in secure detention," he said. "And it's about $35 a day on average to do these alternative programs. You know, you are able to reinvest those savings back into your communities and provide a resource for the kids." Other approaches include probation officers on bike patrol with local police in Spokane and targeted gang prevention activity in Tacoma. Pinto said even simple acts like reminding young people of a court date or checking in with a relative can make a positive difference in the outcome of a case. "I think a lot of times, we ask youth to do stuff - you know, in probation or court orders - that's somewhat unrealistic, because they're just trying to survive, and find the best way to survive for that day," he said. "Why would you lock them up or put them in detention?" A Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is now in 10 counties, serving 70 percent of at-risk juveniles ages 10 to 17. Pinto said 2004, juvenile detention use is down by half in the state and juvenile crime is down by 57 percent.