We are nearing the end of another unprecedented year for Kansas youth. Yet as COVID-19 disrupts education and activities, one group is often overlooked in the seasonal narrative – the youth in prison. As Kansas has gradually moved towards a juvenile justice system that relies less on incarceration and more on effective community alternatives, a disproportionate number of black and brown youth remain incarcerated and vulnerable to inhumane conditions, COVID-19 and abuse at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex.
Now Congress plans to allocate $ 50 million in planning grants to states to close failing youth prisons and expand access to more effective community alternatives. If allocated, these funds could facilitate the closure of KJCC, Kansas’ last juvenile prison, which would represent an important step towards achieving a juvenile justice system focused on rehabilitation and prevention rather than on the punishment.
All young people deserve the opportunity to realize their full potential. Placing young people behind bars has proven ineffective and detrimental to their ability to complete their education, find employment and build a healthy future.
One of us knows this because we have lived through the trauma of incarceration of young people and we are now working to defend children facing the same injustices. The other knows it from the bench, having served as a judge for 21 years and a member of the Kansas Juvenile Justice Review Board from 2015 to 2016.
Through its juvenile justice review process, Kansas’ leaders have already taken the first essential steps to make the juvenile justice system more efficient and fairer. We know that it is high time to abandon the harmful and traumatic practice of incarcerating young people. Kansas now has the opportunity to become a national leader in youth justice reform, and our policymakers should help secure the future of our youth by supporting proposed federal funding of $ 50 million to provide grants to states like Kansas to achieve these results.
Kansas’ historic youth justice legislation, Senate Bill 367, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, has resulted in the closure of youth facilities, increased investment in effective community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, and an overall reduction in the number of youth in custody by nearly 88%. However, the youth prison system that still exists in Kansas is expensive and does not work. It costs $ 134,224 to imprison a child for a year, but less than $ 10,000 to provide that same child with a public education.
We should use the funds currently spent on youth incarceration to provide young people with the proven resources and programs they need to thrive, including community services, alternative education, recreational opportunities, mentoring and Moreover. Young people are best served in their own communities, with access to mental health and family services that help address the root causes of crime and ultimately build stronger communities.
Costly and inefficient, youth incarceration also has a disproportionate impact on black and brown youth. For example, the Census Bureau estimates that about 6.1% of Kansans are black, while black youth make up about 30.7% of the juvenile facility population.
It is time to get out of this inequitable status quo for young people and our communities. In October of this year, Progeny released From Harm to Healing: The Blueprint for Healthier Outcomes for Kansas Youth. This report examines the fiscal and social costs of imprisoning youth in Kansas and recommends a way forward to shut down the KJCC and reinvest in community supports.
The steps outlined by Progeny will build a better Kansas. To help implement this strategy, we need Congress to allocate $ 50 million in federal funding to help states and stakeholders work together to close failing youth prisons and expand access to community-based alternatives. more efficient.
Now is our opportunity to completely reinvent the youth justice system and to position Kansas as a national leader in youth justice reform. Youth and communities across the state are counting on Kansas’ leaders to seize this opportunity to build a better future for all young people.
Nykia Watkins is a young leader of Progeny who herself has experienced youth incarceration. Thomas Foster is a retired juvenile judge and current member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.