Typically, one cannot expect much from sweeping government initiatives, proclamations, or pronouncements. However, with Alabama's most recent effort to overhaul their juvenile justice system, lawmakers are bucking that trend.
The Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force—made up of law enforcement leaders from across the state—unveiled a plan that reduces juvenile crime and improves rehabilitation rates, all while providing a fiscally responsible path forward. Finally, Yellowhammer lawmakers have the roadmap they need to make much-needed improvements to the state's juvenile system.
Fortunately, Alabama will not be going into these reforms blindly. Red states have been developing and enacting these reforms for years. And the results do not disappoint.
One state that comes to mind is Georgia. After enacting criminal justice reform in 2013, the state saw a 30 percent reduction in juvenile arrests. They accomplished this by keeping fewer low-risk juveniles incarcerated.
Texas has also passed a series of laws to reduce their incarcerated youth population. From 2007-2011 the state closed eight juvenile correctional facilities. Not only did this save taxpayers $179 million, juvenile crime is also in decline.
The reforms passed in Utah in 2017 are also expected to reduce the number of detained juveniles by 47 percent. Juvenile detention costs the taxpayer community $127,000, supervision only costs $7,000. Getting the balance right is critical to serve troubled juveniles.
As red states demonstrate time and time again, criminal justice reform works. Now, it is Alabama's turn to set the tone. Here are some of the recommendations included in the report:
- Separating lesser offenders from the most dangerous individuals
Only youths with serious felonies should be taken into custody. Research shows that placing lower risk youths in out-of-home placements increases the likelihood of reoffending. Coupled with the fact that out-of-home placement is much more expensive than community supervision, this reform would net substantive savings for the juvenile system.
- Assess the risk and needs of juvenile offenders and focus resources on the cases that need it most
The Administrative Office of Courts will institute a state-wide risk assessment tool to help determine the best treatment for youths being considered for out-of-home placement. There is currently no tool to help courts decide on the particular risk of each offender. This tool will bring much-needed sanity to the process.
- Improve youth probation and make it more available
Establish data-driven performance standards to make sure that youth probation reduces re-offending and improves behavior, avoiding future incarceration. Serious juvenile offenders will have their particular risk and needs assessed to tailor their treatment.
Lawmakers should implement the recommendations before them. Alabama has a unique chance to act on a worthwhile report. While they will reduce the impact on the state budget, they will also help young people avoid lives of crime. More families will stay together and fewer citizens will be victimized.