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(a) For nearly two decades, since roughly the advent of the 21st Century, youth crime has steadily declined across the country, including in the City. During this time the City has emerged as a leader in juvenile justice reform - shifting the focus from punishment and incarceration to support and care for young people. The City’s reform-minded approach and the decrease in youth crime have contributed to a dramatic decline in the number of youth detained in custody. The City’s focus increasingly has been on new and innovative interventions that invest in young people, rather than punishment.
(b) The budget for Juvenile Hall does not reflect today’s low numbers of detained youth. In fiscal year 2017-2018, the City budgeted $13,322,254 for Juvenile Hall despite the significantly reduced number of detained youth as compared to earlier years. From 2009 to January 2019, the average annual cost per year for each youth detained in Juvenile Hall has risen 127%, from $123,400 to $279,500.
(c) The detention of young people is not rehabilitative, nor does it effectively address public safety. Detention increases the likelihood of recidivism, future incarceration, and homelessness, and results in lower high school completion rates.
(d) The majority of youth detained in Juvenile Hall are not charged with serious offenses. In December 2018, 40 youth were detained at Juvenile Hall - filling only 27% of its beds. Of those 40 youth, 30% were detained for a misdemeanor offense, and 50% were detained while waiting for a court-ordered placement.
(e) Multiple studies have shown that putting youth behind bars fails to enhance public safety, drives low-level delinquent youth deeper into criminality, and increases the likelihood that they will wind up behind bars again. The Arkansas Division of Youth Services studied youth recidivism and identified detention as the strongest predictor of youth recidivism - more so than family difficulties or gang membership. One recent longitudinal study of 35,000 young offenders found that those who were detained as juveniles were twice as likely to be incarcerated as adults than juveniles who committed similar offenses and came from similar backgrounds but were given an alternative sanction or simply not arrested. Another recent study, from Brown University and MIT, found that detaining young people increases by 23% the likelihood that they will be jailed as adults. The study also found that juvenile detention is the single biggest predictor of future incarceration.
(f) The majority of youth in the juvenile justice system nationwide have experienced abuse, neglect, trauma, mental health problems, and family crisis. Youth in the juvenile justice system suffer from serious mental health issues at a rate far greater than the general youth population: 70% as compared to 10-20% of the general youth population. Nearly 90% of youth in the juvenile justice population nationwide have suffered a prior traumatic experience, and 30% of that population meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. The needs of youth impacted by these issues are better met outside of the punitive framework of the delinquency system.
(g) Detention adds more trauma to the lives of already traumatized youth. Detained youth become more isolated and disconnected from their families and their support networks and, when detained while awaiting their disposition hearings, fare far worse at every stage of their case.
(h) The detention of youth negatively impacts their cognitive development at what are critical development stages. Healthy psychological development requires: 1) the presence of a parent or parent-like adult who is involved with and concerned about the young person’s development; 2) a peer group that values positive behavior and academic success; and 3) opportunities and activities that foster independent decision-making and critical thinking. These core adolescent development requirements cannot be achieved when young people are detained because those detained are: 1) separated from their support networks; 2) grouped together with other youth who have been charged with offenses; and 3) stripped of their autonomy and self-determination.
(i) Most youth will age out of crime and should be supported in a positive developmental process. This requires creating strong relationships with caring adults, inclusion in pro-social peer groups and activities, and encouragement to develop their own interests and potential. By expanding our investment in services that are community-based, culturally-relevant, trauma-informed, and developmentally-appropriate, the City will enable youth to make a positive transition into adulthood.
(j) For those youth who must be detained, small, non-institutional settings are most effective at rehabilitating and supporting youth. Services provided to youth should be built on strengths and needs identified by their families, should be delivered by community programs, and whenever possible should avoid institutional placements and their attendant costs and harms.
(Added by Ord. 117-19, File No. 190392, App. 6/28/2019, Eff. 7/29/2019)