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Editorial: Still room for improvement with youth incarceration rate

Last Modified: Friday, March 01, 2013 6:20 PM

Louisiana has made great strides in reducing the number of young people it incarcerates.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Louisiana cut the number of youngsters in confinement from 2,775 in 1997 to 1,035 in 2010, a 56 percent reduction. Only five other states, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Tennessee and West Virginia saw a higher rate of reduction. The national average of reduction during that same time period was 37 percent.

The Foundation’s report, ‘‘No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration’’ submits that juvenile correctional facilities are costly, are largely ineffective in reducing recidivism and a jungle where often injury and abuse occur.

“Locking up young people has lifelong consequences, as incarcerated youth experience lower educational achievement, more unemployment, higher alcohol and substance abuse rates and greater chances of run-ins with the law as adults,” said Bart Lubow, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. “Our decreasing reliance on incarceration presents an exceptional opportunity to respond to juvenile delinquency in a more cost-effective and humane way — and to give these youth a real chance to turn themselves around.”

According to the report, Louisiana had the nation’s highest youth incarceration rate in 1996 with 549 criminal offenders — under age 21 who were confined because of an offense — per 100,000 youngsters. By 2010, the youth incarceration rate dropped to 239 offenders per 100,000 young people, the 18th highest rate of any state.

‘‘For me, the other Kids Count reports usually show Louisiana ranked at the bottom. It’s good to see this is an area where Louisiana is making progress,” Teresa Falgoust, Kids Count Coordinator in Louisiana told The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

Falgoust credited the state’s continued efforts over the past decade to better screen youthful offenders for the decline.

She said the state uses more objective data to determine how to punish youthful offenders, rather than relying solely on law enforcement authorities who often follow laws aimed at adults.

Despite the gains, Anthony Racasner, chief executive officer of Agenda for Children, a New Orleans-based organization funded with grants and contracted to provide data and services for children in Louisiana, said the state’s incarceration rates remain higher than the national average.

Clearly, the state has made giant strides in reducing its youth incarceration rate, but there remains room for improvement.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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