Confining a juvenile can cost a state anywhere from $128 a day in Louisiana to $966 a day in New York, according to a new 46-state survey.
That range, mapped below, reflects data gleaned from state juvenile corrections departments, agency reports or legislative documents and compiled in a Tuesday report by the Justice Policy Institute, a think tank. The daily cost to confine a young person out of his or her home is $408 per day or $148,767 a year, on average. In 33 states, that cost translates to more than $100,000 a year, on a prorated basis.
The wide variation in cost reflects big differences in the state of juvenile confinement across the country, says Marc Schindler, executive director of JPI.
“Every place is different. Some places you would see ‘secure confinement’ and you would think ‘Oh, this is basically like an adult prison, it’s no different.'” But in other places, like Missouri, you might find more-tailored system in place: “Missouri is sort of seen as the place in the country that across the state they’ve figured out how to provide out-of-home secure care for kids but do it in a decent humane, some would even say positive way,” he says.
The daily cost of juvenile confinement
The data below reflect the most expensive option available in each of 46 states, according to a Justice Policy Institute survey conducted in the summer and fall of 2014.
The data collected by JPI represent the most expensive options available in each state and are based on a summer and fall survey. The group plans to periodically update the data.
Costs don’t necessarily reflect the quality of a system. Take Washington, D.C., for example. It costs the nation’s capital $761 a day to incarcerate a young person, placing it behind only Maryland and New York. Baked into that cost are related services including schooling, treatment, employment training and “life-building skills in its small-unit facilities,” according to the report. High costs can also reflect positive trends: a state that reduces its confined population but maintains its existing infrastructure will have a higher per-child cost. But high costs do sometimes reflect poorly run systems.
“Typically what happens is you’ve got large facilities with real high costs and they’re terrible places and they’re holding lots of nonviolent kids and they’re overcrowded,” Schindler says. “That’s more the norm. But it doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t places that have a high cost for a decent reason.”
A low daily cost could be the result of savings stemming from states privatizing confinement, banning staff from unionizing or maintaining few, large facilities instead of many smaller ones.
Quality out-of-home confinement should include treatment, short stays, an “aftercare” plan, placement as close to home as possible and the ability for youths to have friends and family visit them as often as possible, according to the report. And the report says policymakers looking to reduce youth confinement rates should ask certain key questions, such as: what can be done to reduce the length of stays; is incarceration used as a last resort; and is the state wisely spending on early investments to divert future bad behavior.