WASHINGTON (June 16, 2021)—While the rate of out-of-home placements for justice-involved youth is declining, children are still being removed from their homes for relatively minor behavior. For instance, the state of Michigan recently made national news after a 15-year-old girl on probation was put in secure detention for violating a probation order to complete her online school work during the pandemic.

To address these types of issues, many states are taking a closer look at the rate and criteria for out-of-home placements and taking steps to limit those placements wherever possible. In fact, some conservative states are leading the way by passing laws that prohibit out-of-home placements for first-time offenders, and for kids who commit non-violent misdemeanors, status offenses or violate probation terms.

In a new policy paper, Noella Sudbury argues that for states to reduce their reliance on out-of-home placements, policymakers need to take more direct legislative action to limit the use of these costly interventions. To accomplish this goal, this study recommends three actionable solutions that will cost states less money, keep youth with their families, and make communities stronger and safer for everyone.

Lawmakers can make impactful change to youths in the justice system by passing laws that exclude youth from out-of-home placements based on contextual factors, by passing legislation to limit the length of stay in out-of-home placements, and by passing laws that require diversion and invest in expansion.

The latest research shows that even brief contact with the criminal justice system can have long and lasting negative consequences for youth. When youth are diverted from the criminal justice system and their cases are handled informally, it is less costly and leads to lower recidivism rates. Policymakers should take inventory of current diversion programs and expand opportunities to divert youth before and after arrest wherever it is possible.

“Informal processing and community supervision are cheaper [alternatives to out-of-home placements] and lead to better outcomes. By prioritizing these interventions, lawmakers can make intelligent use of taxpayer dollars to help children, strengthen families and create a safer community for everyone,” states Sudbury.

Read the full policy study here.