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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

A National Decline in Youth Confinement: Improving Permanency for Crossover Youth

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This guest post was written by Emily Wesely.

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Published in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, "Number of Kids Behinds Bars Reaches 35-Year Low", written by Kaukab Smith on February 27, 2013, discussed the recent reduction in youth incarceration rates across the country, reaching the lowest it has been for 35 years. Smith referenced the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot (2013), "Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States", to share the recent trend toward more community-based services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. These alternative responses to juvenile delinquency are less punitive and cost saving for the public. Five states - Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota and Tennessee - reported declines in the number of incarcerated youth between 2001 and 2010 by more than 50 percent (Smith, 2013). These states have recognized that the reasons youth become involved in the justice system is different from adults; therefore, the response should be different.

Crossover youth, a popular term used to describe the several children involved in both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system, are affected by these declining youth confinement rates. The number of crossover youth varies depending on the jurisdiction, however, estimates range from 9 to 29 percent of children in the child welfare system (Goldstein, 2012). This reduction in youth incarceration means that children who intersect in both systems are experiencing less confinement and out-of-home placements, increasing permanency rates and the overall outcomes for these said crossover youth. Youth in confinement are defined as young people under the age of 21 (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013), which includes those involved in the child welfare system given that children may remain in extended foster care until age 21.

One of the weaknesses of the article is that it fails to identify and describe the alternative measures and responses to juvenile confinement. The article is so focused on the reduction in incarceration rates that it overlooks the current trend toward permanency for youth by treating them in their home communities. One strength of the article includes Smith's discussion on racial disproportionalities. Despite declining incarceration rates, racial and ethnic disproportionalities still exist in the remaining incarcerated population. This disparity is also true for crossover youth. Youth who identify as African American are disproportionately over represented in both systems. Therefore, permanency rates for African American youth are lower given that they are more likely to be in out-of-home placements or incarcerated.

Since crime rates have not increased as a result of fewer incarcerations, this article dispels the myth that juvenile incarceration rates are correlated with the general public's safety and crime rates. This article promotes the myth that more permanency in placements for youth produces better outcomes, not just personally for the youth and their families, but also for the communities in which the youth reside.


  • Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013, February). Reducing youth incarceration in the United States. Link.
  • Goldstein, B. (2012, November). "Crossover youth": The intersection of child welfare and juvenile justice. Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Link.
  • Smith, K. J. (2013). Number of kids behind bars reaches 35-year low. Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Link.

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