Division Director Brett Peterson says Utah reformed its juvenile justice system three years ago. That means low-level offenders are being diverted into therapy and job training programs instead.
Peterson believes throwing kids in jail for every crime has unintended consequences.
“When you introduce a youth into the formal justice system, they have worse mental health outcomes. They have worse physical health outcomes. They have worse educational outcomes. And, then, the big one: they re-offend at a higher rate,” Peterson said.
In a new report, the state is recording a 26% reduction in risk to re-offend in long-term secure care populations. They also say there has been a 40% decrease in assaults in secure care facilities.
On the other end, Utah is spending 19% more on early intervention programs, including in rural areas.
“The earlier we can serve [at-risk kids], and we can serve them in their homes, in their schools, and in their communities, we get better outcomes,” Peterson said. “We also promote public safety.”
It is not just the court system. Schools and parents can also refer kids for an early intervention.
Peterson thinks there are some crimes that necessitate kids being locked up. However, there are many areas where the state has rethought the juvenile justice system.
“Really honing our system, looking at the research and looking at the data, there are certain situations they should never be in [court],” Peterson said. “You will worsen the outcomes for this youth and the community.”
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