- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A new study shows Ohio as a national leader in diverting juveniles to lower-cost community programs instead of prison.

The national study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows the number of young people in Ohio sent to prison dropped 80 percent from 1997 to 2013. Figures show the national average of juvenile incarceration rates for that time dropped 55 percent.

A total of 491 juveniles currently are incarcerated in three Ohio Department of Youth Services facilities and four contract agencies. In 1997, the average number of offenders held in 12 state lockups and some contract agencies was more than 2,000.

In addition to saving taxpayer money, authorities said research shows that youths do better when they stay closer to home, The Columbus Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1Mxnm80) reported.

“Statistics show that spending even one night in a juvenile-detention center reduces a youth’s chance of graduating from high school by 50 percent,” Franklin County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Gill said. “It exposes him or her to people who’ve done a lot worse things. You’re basically sending him to criminal school and exposing him or her to more trauma.”

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s study comes on the heels of an October report by the Juvenile Justice Coalition that praised Ohio’s youth prison system for being a model for others around the country.

“Ohio’s de-incarceration programs are less expensive and more effective than prisons when youth are matched to the right programs,” said Erin Davies, the nonprofit’s executive director.

While the state continues to expand funding for programs and community services, DYS officials said they aren’t worried about the agency’s future.

“I don’t see us going out of business,” said DYS Director Harvey Reed. “There’s always going to be kids and families that have problems.”

DYS serves 80,000 young offenders in 600 community programs.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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