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Marshall University report: juvenile incarceration ‘counterproductive’

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The same day the Division of Juvenile Services announced its intention to close the Industrial Home for Youth as a juvenile facility and move adults into the institution, Marshall University's Center for Business and Economic Research released a white paper on the incarceration of juveniles.

The paper, released March 15, said there should be other methods besides juvenile incarceration while also considering overcrowding in adult prisons.

Short- to medium-term juvenile facilities, the paper continues, could be reopened as adult facilities, such as the DJS' intention in the Industrial Home's case.

Longer term goals, the paper states, would be to expand childcare and Pre-K education programs. According to the paper, this would have a positive effect in reducing instances of juvenile delinquency and recidivism.

The paper says West Virginia is one of six states to experience an increase in its juvenile incarceration rate in the last 15 years. The majority of youth incarcerated, the paper continues, did not commit violent or major crimes.

The paper also cited a study by the Anne E. Casey Foundation and released by West Virginia Kids Count, which found incarceration of juveniles over the last 15 years has decreased nationwide.

However, this wasn't the case in West Virginia. In 1997, a one-day snapshot showed 399 juveniles incarcerated and 561 in 2010, for an increase of 60 percent.

"Little comfort is found by viewing results in surrounding states all of whom except Pennsylvania experienced declines," the paper states.

The paper said there are a few solutions that other states have implemented. One solution it offered was to only commit juveniles who have committed serious offenses.

Another solution would be to create nonresidential alternatives and to improve state funding to community-based programs.

As for long-term solutions, the paper states that officials could expand child care and Pre-K programs, saying these programs "have the highest payoff per dollar invested of any other youth and education programs."

Right now, the paper continues, there are two problems with these programs — access and quality. Access can be limited by distance or even by a small number of available centers.

The paper also cited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed legislation to reorganize the juvenile justice program.

"Those actions, if passed, will have positive effects on reducing the overcrowding of detention facilities," the paper states.