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Sticker Shock: The Cost of Youth Incarceration

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In Category : Youth Justice, Community Reinvestment

In 2014, when the Justice Policy Institute first analyzed the cost of secure youth confinement, 33 states and the District of Columbia reported an annual cost per youth that eclipsed $100,000. In 2020, despite more than a half-decade of falling youth arrests and declining rates of youth incarceration since 2014, 40 states and Washington, D.C. report spending at least $100,000 annually per confined child, with some states spending more than $500,000 per youth per year.


The average state cost for the secure confinement of a young person is now $588 per day, or $214,620 per year, a 44 percent increase from 2014. These cost figures over a six-year period represent the growing economic impact of incarcerating youth. However, the long-term impact of these policies extends well beyond the fiscal cost.

Extensive research reveals that secure youth incarceration increases the likelihood of recidivism and harms educational attainment, lifetime wages, and future health outcomes for youth. Additionally, carceral settings have proven to be a primary vector for the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Many jurisdictions have reduced the number of youth detained pre-trial to stem the spread of the virus, either by cutting down the number of youth admitted to detention, or by releasing some young people from confinement; but much more work remains to be done. States are spending millions of dollars on secure confinement for youth that not only fails to deliver on public safety promises, but also placed confined youth and correctional staff at risk and contributes to the transmission of a deadly virus.

Along with Sticker Shock 2020, JPI recommends these other additional resources to help the field build its understanding of these issues:

Joint Statement by Fair and Just Prosecution and Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice on Youth Prisons

Can we eliminate the youth prison? (And what should we replace it with?) Columbia Justice Lab’s Square One Project, June 2020

The successful closing of youth prisons shows a path to police reform, Nell Bernstein and Vincent Schiraldi, Washington Post Opinion June 16, 2020

Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration

Cost Benefit Analysis Unit of the Vera Institute of Justice

Washington State Institute for Public Policy

The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth  (2012)—Research for the Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House Council for Community Solutions

Standardized Program Evaluation Protocol

Journal of Quantitative Criminology

Positive Youth Justice

Costs and Benefits of Rehabilitation: How the Public Views Policy Alternatives (MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice)

National Juvenile Justice Network Fiscal Policy Center

Tip Sheet on the Costs of Community-Based Supervision

No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration

Other JPI Works on the Use of Secure Confinement

Common Ground: Lessons Learned from Five States that Reduced Juvenile Confinement by More than Half

Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut: How Collaboration and Commitment Have Improved Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth

Cost Effective Youth Corrections: Rationalizing the Fiscal Architecture of Juvenile Justice Systems

The Dangers of Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other Secure Facilities

The Costs of Confinement: Why Good Juvenile Justice Policies Make Good Fiscal Sense

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