Testimony In SUPPORT of HB 659, “AN ACT concerning Juvenile Law – Continued Detention – Minimum Age.”
March 26, 2019
My name is Jesse Kelley, and I am the Government Affairs
Specialist for the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy
research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach
to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas,
including juvenile justice reform, which is why HB 659 is of special interest
The juvenile justice system is predicated on the recognition
that children are not the same as adults and their mistakes should be treated
differently. Periods of detention can profoundly traumatize young people.
Research has shown that detention is associated with lasting negative outcomes
for youth and therefore must be used with caution to ensure that low-level,
nonviolent juvenile offenders do not sink deeper into the criminal justice
If passed, HB 659 would codify necessary protections to
limit the use of detention for children under the age of twelve. The R Street
Institute supports this legislation because most crimes committed by young
people are low-level, and when a young person spends any amount of time in
detention, the likelihood of future incarceration is increased.
The overwhelming majority of crimes committed by children
are relatively minor, nonviolent offenses. In fact, only about 5 percent of
young people in the juvenile justice system are even accused of committing a
Despite this low number, young people are often detained in youth detention
centers regardless of whether it is best for them or for public safety.
Furthermore, juvenile detention can often lead to longer
terms of incarceration. The stated purpose of juvenile detention is to ensure
that youth appear for court hearings and do not commit subsequent crimes while
awaiting their adjudication hearing. But too often, youth are
held in detention centers because of a lack of more humane, less restrictive
alternatives. Relying on incarceration instead of more effective and
appropriate responses to juvenile offenses can be very harmful to children. In
fact, studies have found that inappropriate uses of detention can actually
drive youth further into the system.
It is ultimately harmful to our communities to house young
people in detention. It is commonly believed that victims of crime want the
harshest punishments possible for defendants, including periods of youth
detainment. But in reality, victims prefer accountability. For example, recent polling has shown that by
a margin of three to one, victims of crime prefer community-based
rehabilitation or mental health and substance abuse treatment over any period
of detention for the offender, because they understand it reduces recidivism
rates and keeps us all safer.
For these and other reasons, we support advancing HB 659 and
will make ourselves available for additional questions.
Thank you for your consideration,
Jesse Kelley, Esq.
Government Affairs Specialist, Criminal Justice Policy
R Street Institute
Paul Kelly. “Why Detention is Not Always the Answer.” Arkansas
Advocates for Children and Families. April 2014. http://www.njjn.org/uploads/digital-library/AR_Why-Detention-Is-Not-Always-The-Answer-Web.pdf
David Gottesman and Susan Wile Schwarz. “Juvenile Justice in the U.S. Facts for
Policymakers.” National Center for Children in Poverty. July 2011. p.1 http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_1038.pdf
James Austin, Kelly Dedel Johnson, and Ronald Weitzer. “Alternatives to the
Secure Detention and Confinement of Juvenile Offenders.” U.S. Department of
Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. September 2005.
 Justice Policy Institute, “The
Dangers of Detention. The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other
Secure Facilities,” The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Dec. 9, 2007. http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-dangers-of-detention.
Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Crime Survivors Speak.” August 2016. p.5 http://allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/CrimeSurvivorsSpeak/