February 13, 2017

Community-Based Treatment More Effective, Less Expensive than Incarceration for Youth Offenders

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

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.

Youth Incarceration Does Little in the Way of Rehabilitation and Improving Public Safety

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).

Youth incarceration is expensive for taxpayers

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.

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