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Hart: Arizona sees big drop in juvenile incarcerations

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Hart: Arizona sees big drop in juvenile incarcerations

It's rare for Arizona to shine in national rankings – other than, say, for population growth or temperature. So we should not fail to note a recent report that cites Arizona as a national leader in the field of juvenile corrections.

Using Justice Department data, the report places Arizona among the five states that showed the greatest drop in the rate of juvenile offenders locked up between 2001 and 2010.

Here are the findings from the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, a non-profit that seeks to reduce the use of incarceration in the justice system:

State2001 Rate**2010 RatePercent Change
Connecticut 215 92 -57.2
Tennessee 260 117 -55
Louisiana 505 239 -52.7
Minnesota 322 159 -50.6
Arizona 305 152 -50.2
United States 335 225 -32.8

**Youth in confinement per 100,000 juveniles in the state population

Why should we care? There are some juveniles who are so dangerous that public safety demands that they be locked up. But these form a small fraction of youth who commit crimes. By far the majority are accused of property, drug and public nuisance offenses. There's widespread agreement among scholars and even corrections officials that locking up juveniles is ineffective in "correcting" delinquent youth, makes them more likely to become involved with the justice system as adults, and exposes them to the risk of physical and sexual abuse.

Last but not least, locking up juveniles, like locking up adults, is expensive.

So Arizona should take a bow for reducing its juvenile corrections population and pursuing more community-based alternative sanctions. But it didn't happen without a little prompting. The report notes that a 2004 Justice Department investigation found "widespread physical and sexual abuse of youth by staff, ... excessive and inappropriate use of disciplinary isolation, as well as failure to protect youth from attacks by other youth" in three of Arizona's juvenile correctional facilities. It was shortly after that finding that the state's juvenile confinement rate began to drop.

Still, we take good news where we can.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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justice dept, prisons, youth

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