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Juvenile incarceration leaves kids worse off

Published: Tuesday, June 25 2013 8:25 p.m. MDT

Juvenile offenders are less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go to prison as an adult if they are sent to juvenile incarceration, according to a paper appearing in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Bebeto Matthews, File, Associated Press

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Juvenile offenders are less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go to prison as an adult if they are sent to juvenile incarceration, according to a paper appearing in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Based on a 10-year study of more than 35,000 juvenile offenders, researchers Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. found that incarcerated kids were worse off in the long run than offenders who received different punishment.

"Over 130,000 juveniles are detained in the U.S. each year with 70,000 in detention on any given day," read a summary of the paper. "… Juvenile incarceration results in large decreases in the likelihood of high school completion and large increases in the likelihood of adult incarceration. These results are in stark contrast to the small effects typically found for adult incarceration, but consistent with larger impacts of policies aimed at adolescents."

The study has important implications for stopping crime early and keeping kids out of prison.

"The kids who ended up incarcerated were 13 percentage points less likely to graduate high school and 22 percentage points more likely to end up back in prison as adults than the kids who went to court but were placed under, say, home monitoring instead. (This was after controlling for family background and so forth,)" wrote Brad Plumer at the Washington Post. "Juvenile detention appeared to be creating criminals, not stopping them."

Even though prison is supposed to deter crime, the study found that offenders who were incarcerated were more likely to return to prison than offenders who received other punishment.

"A similar pattern held true for serious crimes," wrote Zack Beauchamp at ThinkProgress. "Aizer and Doyle found that incarcerated youth were more likely to commit 'homicide, violent crime, property crime and drug crimes' than those that didn’t serve time."

With the U.S. incarcerated population approaching 2.3 million, the treatment of juvenile offenders could prove crucial in reducing crime and criminals overall.

EMAIL: kbennion@deseretnews.com

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