GREEN BAY, Wis. — Wisconsin has drastically lowered its incarceration rate for youth offenders, partly relying more on community-based programs and less on confinement options, according to a national study.
The study said Wisconsin had 583 juveniles incarcerated in public facilities in 2010, down from 1,271 a decade earlier, the Press-Gazette Media reported (http://gbpg.net/189wduE ).
Wisconsin is one of just nine states to mark a dramatic decrease in juvenile incarceration, according to the study, conducted jointly by the National Juvenile Justice Network and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The change is evident in detention centers around Wisconsin. For example, juvenile admissions in Brown County fell from more than 550 in the early part of the decade to fewer than 250 last year. Their average length of stay also dropped by half to just under 10 days.
"As we're learning more about people and human behavior, we're coming up with different alternatives to incarceration," detention center superintendent Brian Laurent said.
A similar trend is playing out in Oconto County, where youth incarceration numbers have gotten so low that the county is closing its detention center at the end of this month. Juvenile offenders who have committed more serious crimes will be sent to Brown County, Laurent said.
For those who have committed lower-level offenses, treatment and case management can be more effective than punishment, said Greg Benesh, who supervises the county's juvenile court staff.
"The more difficult kids may be beyond what we can provide service to, and the ones with minimal risk probably don't need to have us involved with them," he said.
As of 2010, the rate of confined Wisconsin youths aged 10 to 16 was 150 per 100,000 juveniles. That's 28 percent below the U.S. average.
That rate might fall even further thanks to more recent initiatives, the study found. More than 30 county human services departments have participated in training programs involving assessment and treatment as an alternative to incarceration since mid-2011, the study said.