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Rushing to lock up kids is bad social and fiscal policy

Robin L. Dahlberg | 2/24/2009, 9:32 a.m.

Massachusetts has already taken some important steps toward limiting the use of pre-trial juvenile lockups. The Commonwealth’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee has publicly announced that one of its priorities is reducing the number of youth of color in detention facilities. The state Department of Youth Services is spearheading an effort supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop alternatives to juvenile detention.

But we must do much more. The Commonwealth must articulate criteria for locking up youth who have been arrested and, in so doing, limit secure detention to only those youth who are high risks for re-offending or failing to reappear in court if released.

It must educate police officers, probation officers and the juvenile courts about the criteria and hold them accountable for detention decisions that do not meet these standards. And the Commonwealth must take steps to ensure that all detention facilities meet requirements imposed by state law. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we do right by our kids — both for their sake and ours.

Robin L. Dahlberg is a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program in New York City and the primary author of “A Looming Crisis: The Secure Detention of Youth After Arrest and Before Arraignment in Facilities Administered by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.” The full report is available on the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Web site at http://www.aclum.org/lockingupkids.