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Cost-effective Youth Corrections: Rationalizing the Fiscal Architecture of Juvenile Justice Systems

March 1, 2006

Locked confinement in a state institution is more expensive, sometimes running in excess of $60,000 annually compared to $10,000 or less for community supervision or services. In the 51 distinct juvenile justice systems that constitute how young people are treated in America's justice system, it is sometimes cheaper for localities in some states and jurisdictions to send youth to state institutions than it is for communities to develop services to treat youth close to home. Such a financial architecture can lead to undesirable results. Counties often lack the financial means or incentive to expand local programs or services, so fewer of these options exist for youth than the demand would otherwise necessitate. Without local programs or services, judges may have little choice but to send youth convicted of marginal offenses to distant, locked facilities. As a result, youth have been locked in the state system simply because there was nowhere for them to go locally -- and no easy way to pay for those services.