A child advocacy group is recommending that state officials place fewer youth in detention and instead fund community support programs that reduce crime and prevent kids from entering the criminal justice system.
The state could save as much as $106.21 per child, per day, if fewer kids were placed in detention while awaiting court hearings, according to a report released Thursday by Connecticut Voices for Children.
The money would be better spent on non-profit community support programs that prevent kids from entering the system in the first place, said Connecticut Voices for Children Executive Director Emily Byrne.
“Our state has historically failed to adequately fund justice reform, and youth throughout Connecticut are paying the price,” Byrne said. “Black and brown youth continue to face some of the harshest treatment in our criminal legal system as they deal with racially-charged prejudices threaded throughout the process. The fact is, we know what it takes to support youth, and through our research, it’s clear that the wisest investment to reduce justice system involvement in our state is in community resources and social services.”
According to “Reduce, Reinvest, and Do Right, A Model to Estimate Savings from Reducing Connecticut’s Youth Detention, Invest in Nonprofit Community Organizations, and Help Communities Thrive,” Black and brown children face disproportionate consequences at every step within the state’s criminal justice system.
Although Blacks and Latinos make up about 40% of the state’s population, Black and brown youth make up more than 60% of youth in detention and 80% of the population held at Manson Youth Institution, the state’s only prison for young men under the age of 21, the report said.
Youth under the age of 18 can only be held in detention after an arrest if there is probable cause to believe that the child has committed the crime and there is no appropriate less-restrictive alternative, and there is probable cause to believe the youth poses a threat to the community prior to a court hearing.
The authors, Lauren Ruth, Ariana Christakis and Ryan Wilson, looked at a variety of factors to determine the cost of detaining youth and how the money could be applied toward community resources that provide kids with supports to keep them from reoffending.
The figures don’t include the cost of educating youth while detained, the cost of detention center administration or the cost of staffing, the report said.
On average, the authors said children stay in detention 10 to 14 days. About 30% of children stayed beyond the two-week period with about 3% staying closer to two months, according to data gathered from the Judicial Branch.
The number of “child-days” – days in which children are held in detention facilities run by the Judicial Branch – has dropped 42% between 2014 and 2018. But there has only been a 23% drop in expenses when the cost is adjusted for inflation, the report said.
The authors concluded that by declining to detain youth under the age of 12 and youth who have been charged with misdemeanors or violations, the system would save more than 2,500 “child days” and their correlating expenses.
In 2017, one 10-year-old and a dozen children ages 11 and 12 were detained, the report said. Based on the average number of days that children are held, the detentions likely equaled 142 child-days at a cost of up to $106.21 per day. Another 176 children were detained for misdemeanors or violations, which would equal 2,459 child-days with a conservative cost estimate of $189,121, the report said.
Voices for Children recommended that the Judicial Branch and the state Department of Children and Families work together to create appropriate services so that no child stays in detention longer than two weeks.
The state should also develop a risk assessment tool to determine which kids could remain in the community with support and which would need to go to detention, the report said.
The authors recommended using savings from reducing the number of children in detention to fund community services in the state’s largest cities. These programs have a mean cost of about $383,215 per year – which would equate to the cost of 4,982 child days, the authors said.
“We set out young people up for failure when we don’t invest in providing them access to resources or opportunities to thrive,” said Jordyn Wilson, community connections associate with the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. “I have seen fantastic mentoring programs that establish trust and relationships with young people and then they’re cut. These programs work, we just have to fund them. Let’s fund them with the money we save when we stop locking up youth.”