The library came up with that book I told you about last June, Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House, about the US’s horrendous and out of step with other developed countries way of dealing with juvenile offenders by throwing them in jail for years. I’ll share some items.
On average, we spend $88,000 per year to incarcerate a young person in a state facility – more than eight times the $10, 652 we invest in her education. In many states, this gap is even wider. In California, for example, the cost of a year in a youth prison reached a high of $225,000, while education spending dipped to less than $8,000. [p 6]
And what’s the payoff? Children turned into repeat criminals. Locking children up does nothing to rehabilitate them and does much to wreck them.
…for as long as we have locked children away in the name of rehabilitating them, the evidence has mounted that this approach is a failure on all fronts. Sky-high recidivism rates… – higher than 80 percent in some states – indicate that whatever is taking place inside our juvenile correctional facilities, no one is actually being “corrected.” [p 7]
It doesn’t just fail to correct, it succeeds in criminalizing.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that putting youth behind bars not only fails to enhance public safety, it does just the opposite, driving low-level delinquents deeper into criminality and increasing the likelihood that they will wind up behind bars again and again. [p 7]
What does work, Bernstein is convinced, is a consistent relationship with at least one trusted adult. Prison isn’t the place to find that.