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Unnecessary Costs: Juvenile Incarceration in Nebraska

In light of the release of the No Place for Kids Report earlier today, we’re looking at some of the Nebraska-specific numbers.

During the 2009-2010 state fiscal year (SFY), Nebraska spent over $17 million dollars on its two centers for juvenile incarceration – the youth residential treatment centers (YRTC) in Kearney and Geneva. These treatment centers were established in the late 1800s for juveniles, and have been operating ever since. Although improvements in the quality of services provided to incarcerated youth have been made in recent years, when we look at the numbers it’s clear Nebraska is wasting resources on incarcerating children.

Incarcerating youth is extremely expensive. Sending a young woman to Geneva for an average stay costs over $58,000. Sending a young man to Kearney for an average costs the state over $29,000. Furthermore, both institutions have recidivism rates that put their effectiveness into question – 29% at Kearney and 17% at Geneva. Comparatively, No Place for Kids points out that evidence-based practices like Multisystemic Therapy (MST) or Family Functional Therapy (FFT) cost only between $3,500 to $9,500 for an average number of sessions.

Furthermore, Nebraska is incarcerating the wrong youth.  A look at YRTC admissions during SFY 2009-2010 reveal that most of the youth (over 78% at Kearney and 70% at Geneva) are non-violent offenders. Non-violent offenders are nationally the least likely to benefit from incarceration.  In fact, some studies have found that they are more likely to re-offend after being incarcerated. Youth, especially non-violent offenders, often benefit more from community-based services that focus on a range of needs from job and school skills to proper counseling and therapy.

Voices for Children, with support from the National Juvenile Justice Network, and the Tow Foundation put together a comparison of the costs of incarceration vs. rehabilitative services earlier this year.  Costs and Benefits in the Juvenile Justice System



Hopefully this new report and this cost benefit analysis will spark some debate in Nebraska. Our children and taxpayers would benefit from an effort to invest dollars in proven ways to rehabilitate youth rather than locking them away and pushing them deeper into the criminal justice system.

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