More states are either closing youth detention centers or considering it.
Since 2000, states have seen between a 50% and 60% drop in incarcerated youth, according to the Juvenile Law Center.
In New Hampshire for example, fewer than 20 children are currently housed on a campus built for 140.
“I think that we're increasingly recognizing that incarceration, locking kids up, does not promote public safety. It harms youth and it's incredibly costly,” said Marsha Levick, Chief Legal Officer at the Juvenile Law Center.
Cost is even more of an issue now as states pay to keep these nearly empty facilities running.
Last month, the Biden administration proposed more funding for the country's youth justice budget. It would go from $360 million to nearly $800 million. About $100 million of that would specifically go toward efforts to close detention facilities and, instead, invest in community programs.
“It means that we need to be thinking about investing in mental health services in our communities, making sure that kids have good access, the best access to physical health resources that they might need and, importantly, thinking about school, right, it's not just afterschool activities. It's thinking about what's happening to kids during the school day, keeping them in school, making sure that we are giving them every opportunity to succeed,” said Levick.
She also points to the growing number of abuse allegations against youth detention centers, which can harm both mental and physical health for kids.
Recent polling from the Juvenile Law Center shows nearly 80% of the public is on board with closing detention centers. They’re hoping to instead focus on prevention and rehabilitation efforts.