As part of a series on the foster care system, Teen Vogue looked at why foster children face a disproportionate risk of incarceration:
The problem is so severe that one-quarter of foster care alumni will become involved with the criminal justice system within two years of leaving care. Black youth, LGBTQ youth and those with mental illnesses are more likely to be in foster care, and discrimination in the system exacerbates these populations’ already disproportionate vulnerabilities to criminalization. Advocates refer to the “foster care-to-prison pipeline” to describe the practices and policies that funnel young people from the child welfare system into the criminal justice system.
Juvenile justice involvement has particularly adverse effects on foster youth because it can impact their treatment and home placements for the rest of their time in foster care, according to the advocates Teen Vogue spoke to. “As soon as kids get labeled [as ‘bad’ kids] it’s really hard for them to get unlabeled,” Christina Wilson Remlin, lead counsel for Children’s Rights, an organization that works to change the child welfare system through legal action, tells Teen Vogue.
Youth advocates are calling for more “trauma-informed” care, adequate mental health services, and limitations on using group homes and when the police can be called.
But there are some new developments in the effort to keep kids out of jail. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Jake Horowitz and Casey Pheiffer discuss Kentucky’s recent experience of relying more heavily on diversion programs for some young people. The state experienced a 34 percent drop in juvenile detention between 2014 and 2017 because of changes to state policy that divert kids into local programs that would keep them at home with their families—with consistently high rates of completion:
The overhaul of the state’s juvenile system began in 2012, when the General Assembly created a bipartisan task force to study its effectiveness. After reviewing years of data, the task force found that more than half of the youths in Kentucky’s juvenile facilities in 2012 were being held for misdemeanors or probation violations. It also determined that they were being kept in out-of-home placements longer than a decade earlier. This contravened research showing that residential placements and lengthier stays generally fail to reduce recidivism more than community-based responses for most juveniles—and that such an approach can even make the behavior of some worse.
The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime & Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice provided technical assistance to the task force.
And in Connecticut, one prison is placing young men with a group of older, incarcerated mentors to encourage them to learn skills that will keep them from reoffending. The program called TRUE was developed with the help of the Vera Institute of Justice, an Art for Justice Fund grantee, and is inspired by a youth prison in Germany:
Many American prisons have classes, jobs, and rehabilitative programs, at least on paper. But in the TRUE program, the older prisoners have been granted the trust and latitude to develop a radically different environment, somewhere between family and reformatory, with strict rules, incentives and long days of work and study. The young men go through a series of stages, learning to confront their pasts, to be vulnerable around their peers, to resolve conflicts through communication instead of violence, and to master basic life skills they may have missed, such as managing a personal budget.