Too Many Children Facing Incarceration

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Juvenile detention has become more of a hotly-contested issue in the past few decades. As child advocates have pushed for a reduction in the numbers of incarcerated minors, some states have changed their approaches to corrective measures involving those under the age of 18.

In the five years between 2006 and 2011, the national rates for the number of children in punitive detention – any kind of incarceration or imprisonment – dropped by 35%. This staggering statistic, a reduction by more than a third of minors behind bars, applied to the United States as a whole, across all forms and legal mechanisms for juvenile detention.

Some states, however, observed an increase in child incarceration over that same period. In West Virginia, that five-year period showed a 5% increase in the population of juvenile detention centers. Those facilities continue to house more minors than child advocates are hoping to see, according to an August 2021 article by Anya Slepyan in the Mountain State Spotlight and WDTV.

Slepyan’s article looks at the case of Geard Mitchell, who spent seven years in state custody. Boone County, West Virginia, was the site of his primary incarceration, at the Kuhn Juvenile Center.

At other times, Mitchell had lived in foster homes, or in the home of his aunt. For Mitchell, he had only low-level offenses on his record. A West Virginia judge said that Mitchell had been “improperly labeled as a sex offender despite never being charged as such.” This label followed the child, and prevented him from being awarded the foster home placement he needed. As a result, he stayed in juvenile detention, even though the sentences for his low-level offenses had been served.

Cases like those of Geard Mitchell are all too common. In a criminal justice system overcrowded and pushed to its limits with understaffing, children can fall through the cracks and receive far harsher and lengthier punishment than is called for.

A Cincinnati family law attorney will fight to prevent this miscarriage of justice. How is Ohio handling these issues?

The Urban Institute is a non-profit institute analyzing social and economic issues. Andreea Matei and Samantha Harvell wrote a study about Ohio for their Urban.org site. In Matei and Harvell’s study, they showed that the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) was able to close five of its eight juvenile detention facilities between 2007 and 2019. However, the average daily population in Ohio’s youth prisons steadily rose each year between 2015 and 2019.

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