Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

The Judge’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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[B]y incarcerating thousands of children in facilities, the largest of which closely resemble adult prisons, New York State is harming its children, wasting money, and endangering its public.

— New York task force on juvenile justice. Quoted by Jonathan Lippmann, Chief Judge, State of New York, in this recent New York Law Journal commentary on the need for juvenile justice reforms in the Empire State. More from Judge Lippmann:

About 1,600 young people are sent to juvenile detention facilities each year.

It costs the state about $210,000 annually to institutionalize each of these youths, roughly 10 times the cost of the most expensive community-based alternative to incarceration programs.

It is an understatement to say that the return on this investment is abysmal.

An estimated 89 percent of boys incarcerated in New York’s juvenile detention facilities go on to commit additional crimes. This is especially troubling given that as recently as 2007 the majority of young people (53 percent) being sent to these facilities had committed misdemeanor-level offenses, and that low and moderate risk offenders who receive community-based services are more likely to avoid further contact with the justice system.

Clearly, too many kids are being sent to institutions that serve as incubators for hardened criminals and, in too many instances, they are being sent there not because of the severity of their offenses but because of the chaos in their home lives—addiction, mental illness, family dysfunction, etc.—and because the services they so desperately need to get their lives back on track are not available in their communities.

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