The number of young people in Utah who are going to jail is declining according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National Kid’s Count Project. The report shows the decline is about on pace with the majority of the United States. But the progress could be cut short because of budget cuts.
The United States Still leads the industrial world in the number young people imprisoned. But according to the report, in 2010, almost every state in the nation jailed fewer youth than a decade earlier. Utah in particular has seen a 30 percent drop since 2000. Karen Crompton is President and CEO of Voices for Utah Children. She says the decline in incarcerations has not lead to a surge in juvenile crime.
“The public is safer, youth are being treated less punitively and more humanely and government is saving money, because our juvenile justice systems are reducing their reliance on confinement," Crompton says.
One of the key components of Utah’s juvenile justice system has been the use of receiving centers. These are community-based programs that operate as alternatives to detention centers.
Susan Burke is Director of the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services. She worries funding for some of these programs in rural areas of the state is at risk.
“If we do not continue to get funding for some of the basic things that we need we are going to probably see a reversal in this trend of having fewer kids locked up in our facilities,” Burke says.
Senate Bill 218, sponsored by Republican Daniel Thatcher would require local communities to supplement funding for receiving centers. Burke says if this bill passes many rural communities will struggle to find the resources to keep the programs afloat.