A newly released study from the Justice Policy Institute shows that Utah spends over $78,000 per year to incarcerate one young adult. According to Marc Schindler, Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that money is not well spent.
“If my child was in trouble with the law and somebody said to me, ‘you can have $80,000 to try to provide whatever you want to get your child back on the right track,’ I think the last thing I would choose would be to lock them up,” he said.
The national average cost to incarcerate a juvenile offender is nearly $150,000 a year. However, Utah taxpayers pay one of the lowest amounts to incarcerate its youth. While much of the incarceration is unnecessary, the state has a positive track record in offering alternatives for its delinquents, Schindler said.
“On any given day across the country, we’ve got about 60,000 young people who are incarcerated and 62 percent of them are there for a non-violent offense,” he said. “Utah actually has a pretty good tradition of providing young people with the types of services and supports outside of secure facilities.”
The study finds that long-term jail time for youth has a profoundly harmful impact on their future prospects in becoming upstanding citizens. Unnecessary confinement can negatively impact a child’s chances of obtaining employment and education, not to mention resisting future criminal activity. Community-based solutions should be sought instead, Schindler said.
“Being placed in a correctional atmosphere actually contributes to young people seeing themselves as criminals,” he said. “What we should be thinking about much more is, what are the ways we can lift young people up, knowing that they’re going to have challenges in adolescence.”
Only six states spend less on juvenile incarceration than Utah.