DAYTON — The annual cost to house juvenile offenders in Ohio is $202,502 per youth, the 10th highest out of 46 states surveyed. But juvenile justice experts say the state has made great strides to keep juveniles in less costly, local rehabilitation facilities rather than state institutions.
A new study entitled “Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration” was released this week by the Justice Policy Institute. The national nonprofit organization queried 46 jurisdictions in the United States to find the direct and indirect cost of locking up juvenile offenders in state facilities.
The cheapest per-day rate was $127 in Louisiana and the most expensive was New York with a $966 per head, per day cost. Ohio came in 10th highest with a $554 daily rate and $202,502 annually per youthful offender housed in the state’s four correctional facilities. By contrast, it costs $115 to $120 a day to house a youth offender at the Butler County Detention Center.
Policy changes and redirected thinking on the wisdom of locking all youthful felony offenders up is a work in progress, according to the report. Experts here say Ohio has made great strides.
“In 2009, we had about 1,300 kids in our facilities. Today, we only have about 480. That’s a 63 percent decrease,” said Kim Jump, communications chief for DYS. “Along with that, it’s rather amazing, we’re actually spending $60 million less per year on facilities than we did in 2009.”
Former Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, an advocate for juvenile justice reform, said there have been concerted efforts in the state to keep as many youthful offenders close to home in rehabilitative settings rather than locked behind bars in institutions.
State money saved by not sending offenders to DYS was funneled to the locals to move this effort along. Now, for the most part, only the worst of the worst offenders are in DYS. The high cost comes in because they need intensive treatment and highly trained staff at those institutions.
“The problem is now you have a concentration of the really bad eggs, so to speak — the kids who have really serious issues. It’s probably not even possible to put them into diversion programs, and because of the crime they committed, they probably really should be in that facility” Stratton said. “So you really need a higher level of staff and a higher level of staff training.”
Rob Clevenger, director of the Butler County Juvenile Justice Center, said there is a fine balance judges strive for when deciding where to sentence an offender. He said they need to consider public safety concerns, the victims and what will work best for the offender.
There are some factors in Ohio that can frustrate efforts to keep kids out of DYS, according to Erin Davies, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition. She said there are still too many juveniles in DYS who should be held locally, partially because they are not considered a high risk to reoffend. Others may be there because there aren’t rehabilitation programs locally.
“Research shows that sending lower risk youths to correctional facilities is not only extraordinarily expensive, but it also actually increases the likelihood that they will reoffend,” she said. “That in turn can harm public safety by creating more victims, essentially. I look at this as not just how do we reduce costs at DYS, but how do we make sure we’re sending the kids that really need to be in those facilities to those facilities.”
The study also pointed out that states, such as Ohio, that have mandatory minimum sentences can also exacerbate the goal of reducing the number of youth being sent to DYS. The legislature a few years ago made sweeping changes to sentencing guidelines, designed to lower populations in the prisons, but Stratton said new laws have been passed in the meantime that have brought more stringent punishments back into play. She said the legislature recently convened a re-codification committee to look at the whole criminal justice code.
“What we have now is felony creep. Everything is enhanced; everything has gone up. You keep wanting to reduce your prison population, which is your biggest budget item, but then you keep passing laws that give judges less discretion and keep enhancing penalties,” she said. “They are going to take a look at the whole thing and bring back some sense of balance and order to it.”