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Reduction in child custody- a US success story

Penelope Gibbs
08 Jun 2014

Its easy to get gloomy about mass incarceration in USA.  The numbers are so huge and people imprisoned for so long.  But there is a big success parallel to that in England and Wales.  Child custody has gone down 40% since the peak in 1995. Its still too high, and way higher (at 225 per 100,000) than in England and Wales.  Its difficult for an outsider to judge, but it seems huge credit is due to the Annie E Casey Foundation (AECF) for this drop.  AECF has focused on reducing child custody (or as they call it juvenile incarceration) for around 10 years.  Its a huge and complex job when every state has totally different legislation and criminal justice systems.  AECP has focused initially on changing practice in each state, rather than changing legislation, setting up Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiatives to encourage local stakeholders to use community approaches.  Nate Balis, the new director, and I discussed how AECP has encouraged states to restrict these alternatives to those who genuinely would have got custody instead.  The danger in creating any new and very attractive alternative is that judges use it as an alternative to community sentences, rather than an alternative to custody.  I think this is what happened to women’s centres in England and Wales.  DJs and magistrates liked them and used them, but for offenders who were always going to get a community sentence.  So initially women’s centres, seemed to have little impact on women’s imprisonment.