Sticker Shock: What Does it Cost to Incarcerate Youth in New Jersey?

December 11, 2014

Improving New Jersey’s juvenile justice system is a top priority of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, with its Leadership Committee and several fund holders financially supporting Rutgers’ Post-Disposition Advocacy Project so that incarcerated youth may have legal representation.

We also encourage you to review a recent study released by the Justice Policy Institute – and covered in the Washington Post – which found that “[c]onfining a juvenile can cost a state anywhere from $128 a day in Louisiana to $966 a day in New York.”

Where does New Jersey come in on the list?  On the higher end, with each incarcerated youth costing the state $537.35 per day, or roughly $196,000 per year.

The average cost among the 46 states included in the survey is $407 per day or $148,000 per year.

“Every year, the majority of states spend $100,000 or more to lock up youth who are mostly imprisoned for troubled behavior or nonviolent offenses,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of Justice Policy Institute. “And compared to the huge long-term costs to young people, their families, victims, and taxpayers, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a poor investment and we must do better.”

The billions of dollars in hidden costs result from formerly incarcerated young people earning lower wages, paying less in taxes, as well as having a greater dependence upon government assistance and higher rates of recidivism. Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future.

The best way to address the failures of the system is to just head them off altogether, according to the report. JPI recommended changing policies that promote states’ overreliance on incarceration, as well as shifting resources away from confinement and towards community-based solutions. Additionally, the report recommended removing some of the barriers that prevent states from placing youth in their home or close-to-home,and making appropriate investments in the right parts of the youth-serving system that can reduce long-term costs.