Alternatives to custody are urged for juvenile offenders

ASSOCIATED PRESS | 5/28/2008, 11:11 a.m.

At age 16 in New York, younger for certain violent crimes, teens face prosecution in adult court as “juvenile offenders,” though with a more lenient sentencing structure. Younger lawbreakers generally go to Family Court as “juvenile delinquents.”

The three-year recidivism rate is 73 percent for 16 year-olds convicted as adults, compared with 39 percent for New York inmates overall.

“I think for a long time people sort of had the idea nothing worked,” said Sickmund, chief of systems research for the nonprofit National Center for Juvenile Justice. “I think the thing now is people know that stuff works. It’s matching the right stuff with the right kids and having the money to do it and do it well.”

The MacArthur Foundation this year is spending $100 million on grants aimed in part at creating model programs in Louisiana, Washington, Pennsylvania and Illinois. There are other model programs out there.

One program, Functional Family Therapy, is used in 10,000 cases a year in the U.S. and Europe, costing about $2,500 per case, chief executive Doug Kopp said.

For three to four months, a trained therapist works intensively with the juvenile and the entire family. A recent study in Washington state of young parolees showed a drop in felony recidivism from 28 percent to 17 percent within 18 months of release, Kopp said.