In order to ensure that Florida’s youth become productive members of local communities, state policymakers must move away from an approach to juvenile justice that relies heavily on incarceration, and instead embrace a system that prioritizes community-based treatment and care. This would allow the state to close youth corrections facilities and improve outcomes for affected youth while utilizing resources for more effective community-based alternatives.
Research has shown that committing every youth offender to prison runs counter to the dual goals of making Florida safer and rehabilitating offenders to become productive and contributing members of the community. Youth imprisonment is ineffective and has produced a range of negative outcomes for affected youth, communities and taxpayers. In Florida, less than 9 percent of the 363,000 youth arrested between 2007 and 2012 were serious and violent offenders. Additionally, research reveals that 63 percent of youth in prison are incarcerated for drug use, disorderly conduct, probation violations, property crimes and status offenses (e.g. running away).
In fiscal year 2014, Florida spent $82.5 million to run its 24 state and county youth detention facilities. In addition to the direct costs of incarceration, taxpayers continue to pay more in the long run. National research indicates that youth incarceration is associated with reduced job prospects, higher recidivism and suicide rates and increased mental health issues. Instead of aging out of the system and becoming economically self-sufficient, these youths exact a huge long-term economic cost to the state and society — $8 billion to $21 billion per year — due to lost future earnings, government tax revenue and higher spending on public assistance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.
Evidence-based treatment models such as Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, which has been identified as appropriate for high-risk youth with chronic antisocial behavior, emotional disturbance and delinquency, costs $7,000 more than standard group home placement, but saves an estimated $96,000 in lower costs to victims and the criminal justice system, a return of $14 for every extra dollar spent on treatment. At a community-based treatment program in Ohio that costs $8,539 per placement (compared with $36,571 for placement in a community corrections facility), those completing treatment had outcomes equal to or greater than those from corrections facilities.
Florida’s Redirection Program, a community-based, family-centered alternative to residential juvenile justice commitment, reduced recidivism rates while saving $51.2 million from 2006 to 2010.