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Should we spend $89,000 to separate a child from his parents?

We all make mistakes, but not all mistakes result in the same consequences. Sometimes, consequences can lead to the restriction of liberty. For children, in more extreme cases, it can even lead to being separated from their parents and sentenced to correctional facilities.

In the state of Kansas, putting a child into a correctional facility costs nearly $89,000 per child. Another option, group homes, costs over $50,000.  Considering that placing a child into a correctional facility costs significantly more than the average family’s median income – which in Kansas is $50,624 – these children should be leaving these facilities, effectively rehabilitated and equipped to make better decisions.

Unfortunately, the massive amount of money being thrown at the situation has not lead to better outcomes for the children, based on the findings of the Kansas Juvenile Justice Workgroup:

 “Among juveniles released from Case Management in 2014 who had spent time in group homes, more than a third (36 percent) had gone missing from such homes (defined as absent without leave, or AWOL) at least once, up from 26 percent in 2006. On any given day, more than 100 youths were AWOL, or roughly 1 in 6 juveniles assigned to group home placement, and 41 percent of AWOL youths were missing for a month or more.”

On any given day, 16 percent of the children who should be in a group home go absent, which means they’re not receiving the treatment they need. Not that the child being there for treatment would have bettered their situation: most of the services accessed during placement were neither shown to reduce recidivism nor monitored for quality by the juvenile justice system. The treatment does not work, and many juveniles do not attend anyway. This raises the question, “Why do we insist on spending money on something that does not work?”

Based on the available evidence, the current system in Kansas badly needs reform and improvement. Taxpayers dollars are wasted, and questions remain about whether children are better off for it. For that reason, the state government went to work and came up with common sense reforms that are projected to lower the cost to taxpayers and improve the outcomes for children who are involved in the criminal justice system. According to the Pew report, the money saved on the reforms will be reinvested and allocated into prevention programs, thus saving the taxpayers even more money:

“State officials expect the legislation to reduce the out-of-home juvenile population by approximately 60 percent by 2022, producing $72 million in savings that the law requires to be reinvested in evidence-based community alternatives to improve public safety and other outcomes.”

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