Recidivism rate varies for juvenile offenders

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Most Alaska kids who break the law appear to stay out of trouble after they get off probation, preliminary statistics show. But the picture is bleaker for those whose crimes were serious enough to land them in the state's long-term, lockup facilities.

Patty Ware, acting director for the state Division of Juvenile Justice, told a legislative committee this week that the state appears to have about a 76 percent success rate after two years with kids leaving its probation system.

She cautioned, however, that the division could not track whether the juveniles committed more crime after they turned 18, so the number may be inaccurate.

''It's preliminary data only at this point,'' Ware said.

Also, she said, there is no nationally accepted protocol for reporting juvenile re-offense data so Alaska's numbers cannot be compared to other states.

Kids who wound up in one of the state's long-term treatment institutions fared much worse.

At Johnson Youth Center in Juneau, 25 percent committed another crime within two years. At McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage, 45 percent did. At Bethel, 86 percent of the youths re-offended after two years, while at Fairbanks, 61 percent did.

''By the time juveniles make it to our secure institution treatment programs, they have both committed very serious offenses, and by that point, they are severely damaged,'' Ware said.

The bulk of the kids in the juvenile justice system have a long history of child abuse or neglect, and many also have mental health and drug and alcohol problems, or both, Ware said.

Because the number of young people in the long-term centers was relatively small, the state was able track them into adulthood, Ware said. That may be one reason the numbers from the long-term institutions are higher, she said.

The total number of young people in the Juneau and Bethel centers was small -- only seven released from Bethel and eight released from Juneau -- so those statistics may not be meaningful, Ware said.

One reason for the higher re-offense rate in Bethel, she said, is that many of the young people are from outlying villages. They received no follow up care there after they left the state institution.

Another reason is that the youths in the Bethel center tend to come in with more problems. A group of auditors from the American Correctional Association remarked on that during an accreditation visit to the Bethel center, Ware said.

''They had never seen a group of kids with as complex an array, or number of problems, as they have with the kids who were institutionalized in Bethel,'' Ware said.

The division has added a person to its Bethel office to help connect those youths leaving state custody with what resources exist in their villages, although they still are not receiving as much help as they need, she said.

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, questioned whether young people get in trouble again so they can return to a place where they have health care, a room with a bed, a classroom with books, a low pupil-teacher ratio and a peer group.

''Do they like it? Do they love it?'' Gatto asked.

Ware said that might be the case with a few kids, but most do not enjoy living in an institution where they have no freedom and their companions are people who have committed serious crimes.

She said the division is trying to improve the facilities' success rates, including looking at practices that have worked in other states to see if they can be duplicated in Alaska.

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