(Washington, DC – February 15, 2023) – Today, four national research and advocacy organizations – the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, Justice for Families, the Justice Policy Institute, and the National Juvenile Justice Network – released a series of nine briefs with lessons learned on youth decarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizations came together in the early days of the pandemic to study state and local policy and practice changes, spurred by the public health need to reduce incarcerated populations, that effectively decreased reliance on youth incarceration.
“We learned about what it can look like to serve youth in their homes instead of in locked facilities during the pandemic. We can invest in the tools to truly do what’s right for young people if we have the courage to do so,” says Tracey Tucker, Co-Executive Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network.
The briefs reflect lessons learned from roundtables with practitioners, families, and advocates, and from five case studies examining jurisdictions across the country. These briefs are part of an effort to identify, assess, and share with the youth justice field replicable policy and practice changes that led to a decrease in youth incarceration during the pandemic.
Marc Schindler, Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute said, “This project clearly demonstrated that it is possible to reduce youth detention and incarceration, saving precious taxpayer dollars for more effective and fairer approaches to working with youth and families in the justice system. While this is good news, it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to take these steps.”
The COVID-19 pandemic set in motion an unprecedented public health crisis impacting nearly every facet of American life, including the administration of youth justice. Because the health risk of the virus to young people incarcerated in corrections facilities – and the staff who worked with them – was extremely high, it forced states and localities to quickly reduce the number of young people held in congregate care facilities and implement strategies to prevent and contain the spread of the virus.
“We know that we will be living with the harms inflicted by the pandemic for years to come. We can, however, take what we have learned from decarceration efforts during the pandemic and apply it to efforts across the country to continue to support youth in their own communities,” said Jason Szanyi, Deputy Director, Center for Children’s Law and Policy.
Jurisdictions across the country proved that significant reductions in youth incarceration are possible. These briefs illustrate how agencies can reduce reliance on youth incarceration and invest in more effective, community-based, strategies to support justice-involved youth and families. Jeanette Bocanegra, Executive Director, Justice for Families said, “It is time that we, as a community, come together and decide our children’s lives and futures are worth more than upholding the justice industrial complex, we could save millions by defunding prisons and investing that money in healthy solutions for kids and families from day one. If kids are our future, aren’t they worth it?”
These jurisdictions and experts showed that we can more effectively support, and hold many more justice-involved young people accountable, at home in their own communities.