Michigan locking up fewer kids, but is that good enough?

Feb 27, 2013

Fewer teens and kids are incarcerated now in Michigan than fifteen years ago. A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says youth incarceration in the state has dropped 44 percent since 1997.

It's a positive outcome for an otherwise troubling and expensive approach. Locking up a young person costs the state between $250 to $500 every day. Most juvenile sentences are about a year, according to the report. It also says incarcerated kids have a higher chance of re-offending than kids placed in in-home treatment programs, which advocates see as an alternative. Jane Zehnder-Merrell is one of these advocates. She's with the Michigan League for Public Policy and thinks locking up juveniles is bound to fail most of the time.  "We're using this strategy with offenders who have committed non-violent crimes, who do not pose a threat to public safety," she says. "And we know that the outcomes of pursuing this as a way of dealing with youth is not very successful." Currently about 2000 kids and teenagers are incarcerated in the state. A number that puts Michigan below the national average.