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Sticker Shock 2020: 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:

Other JPI Works on the Use of Secure Confinement

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