A growing body of research finds that for many youth, involvement in the juvenile justice system can increase rates of recidivism and lead to poorer long-term outcomes. Even limited contact with the system, such as through arrest, can decrease the odds of high school graduation by more than 70 percent. Poor educational outcomes, in turn, lead to poor employment prospects and youths incarcerated before age 20 are more likely to be unemployed and have lower wages a decade or more after incarceration.
Despite such poor outcomes, many jurisdictions continue to invest in the most expensive options available for addressing youth delinquency, such as out-of-home placements in secure facilities. Incarceration might be necessary in certain cases but researchers and leaders in the field increasingly agree that it is overused for offenders who pose little risk to public safety, such as status offenders, not be criminal if committed by an adult. In addition to the fiscal cost to the taxpayer of unnecessary confinement, societal costs can include the incarcerated individual’s loss of future earnings, the government’s loss of future tax revenue, and increased recidivism.