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Report: Juvenile-Justice Reforms Show Progress in UT, US Systems

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Thursday, June 30, 2022   

New research finds reports of skyrocketing youth crime are not only unfounded, but also are fueling calls for stricter punishments.

A Sentencing Project report shows the share of crimes in the U.S. committed by young people fell by more than half in the past two decades. It also decreased for all major types of offenses in 2020.

Anna Thomas is a senior project specialist and juvenile justice advocate for the nonprofit Voices for Utah Children. She said data in the report shows that juvenile justice programs in Utah and across the country show long-term improvements, including lower incarceration rates and better outcomes.

"I think we need to be really careful about characterizing short-term trends in increased misconduct as some sort of long-term vision of the future where children are just worse than they've ever been," said Thomas. "And we need to be really careful about overreacting."

Thomas said since its 2017 overhaul of its juvenile justice system, Utah has significantly reduced reliance on detention, diverting more young people into community-based programs that hold them accountable at a lower cost and avoid pushing them deeper into the juvenile-justice system.

Thomas said the trend in Utah and across the country is for fewer incarcerations and more interventions, providing children in the system with social services and mental-heath care.

"Getting kids connected with the help that they need before they get in more serious trouble and get involved in the court system," said Thomas. "There's definitely been an enormous reduction in kids who are taken out of their homes and held in some kind of secure care."

Report author Richard Mendel - a senior research fellow with The Sentencing Project - said there has been alarming news coverage and rhetoric from politicians regarding this false crime wave, and it's important for states to continue working to divert kids from the justice system, rather than returning to more tough-on-crime policies.

"This is not a moment to be panicking about youth crime," said Mendel, "especially if that panic is going to lead us to embrace solutions that we know that the evidence shows do not work."


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