Intern, Center for Effective Justice
Share this article
Jamie Scherbeh | February 2, 2018
Alabama is taking steps toward addressing inefficiencies within its juvenile justice system. Last April, Governor Ivey signed into law a resolution creating the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force. The Task Force was charged with analyzing problems within the system and proposing solutions. The Task Force released its policy proposals in a recent report. If implemented, the recommendations are expected to reduce recidivism rates among juveniles and increase public safety while cutting costs for Alabama taxpayers. It is now up to the Alabama legislature to act on the proposed solutions.
The Task Force found shocking statistics during its investigation. Two-thirds of Alabama juveniles are in state custody for committing non-felonies, indicating the juvenile justice system excessively utilizes out-of-home placement by responding to low-level offenders. The original purpose of juvenile detention centers was not to house shoplifters, but to protect communities from youth who have committed violent crimes and pose a risk to public safety. Many youth ended up in detention facilities due to technical violations such as missing court dates, minor probation violations, or failing to pay fines. Evidence shows that low-risk, low-level youths are less likely to recidivate if they receive community-based programming rather than confinement. This is unsurprising, considering community-based programming is a form of punishment that allows children to stay better connected to their families and loved ones while they get back on track.
Additionally, out-of-home placement comes at a much greater cost to taxpayers in comparison to community-based responses. If the Task Force’s policy recommendations are implemented, the estimated savings for Alabama taxpayers total $34 million over a five-year period. The savings is driven largely by the recommendation to reduce the number of the state’s out-of-home placement population by 45 percent from the currently projected 2023 level. If Alabama taxpayers want the best return on their public safety investment, low-risk youth should be offered consistent and appropriate alternatives to detention. This will produce better outcomes for Alabama communities and families while controlling costs.
The Task Force recommends reinvesting the savings back into the system to help high-risk youth and implement more community-based programs that fund early interventions for juveniles.
The Task Force’s policy recommendations would keep low-level youth in their community and closer to their families. Other conservative states, such as Texas, have shown that evidence-based community programs are the most cost-effective way to promote safety and hold youth accountable for their actions. The Task Force did its part by producing a set up common sense recommendations per Governor Ivey’s charge. Now Alabama legislators must work to enact these policies and create a more effective juvenile justice system.