Incarcerating younger people has always been somewhat controversial, but if it didn’t already rub you the wrong way, a new report found that incarcerating juveniles for offenses they commit — including even non-violent offenses — can cost up to $148,767 per year per juvenile. That breaks down to $408 per day, far more than the $75 per day it costs to send such juveniles to community-based programs that seem to be more effective at treating them anyway.
Maybe the biggest problem with incarcerating younger people for offenses that they allegedly committed is that their are some extreme long-term costs associated with the incarceration. For example, that individual who is locked away is missing educational opportunities and, really, life opportunities. It could derail his or her future permanently.
As a result, these individuals may come to rely upon social services to help them. Not because they are lazy or unable to perform certain jobs — but because their criminal history essentially makes them unemployable from a manager’s point of view. This is what juvenile incarceration is doing to far too many people every day in this country.
Ultimately, the report says that these long-term consequences cost the country anywhere between $8-21 billion every year. Incarcerating younger people may be necessary in some cases, but in general, it was used far too liberally in the last decade or two. Juvenile incarceration rates dropped 45 percent from 2001 to 2011, and hopefully this trend continues. Treating younger people and helping them get better in the wake of an offense as opposed to locking them up and throwing away the key is a far better use of resources.
Source: Equal Justice Initiative, “Incarcerating Youth Could Cost Taxpayers More Than $8 Billion A Year,” Jan. 7, 2015