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Ohio's alternative to juvenile prison has become a national model
Community-based counseling and substance abuse services instead of incarceration has reduced recidivism rates and saved tax dollars

Kevin Niedermier
Cuyahoga County's juvenile justice system is sending fewer underage offenders to prison under a statewide alternative program.
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Ohio’s quarter-century effort to reduce the number of juveniles it sends to prison has become a model for the rest of the country. According to a report released today by the Juvenile Justice Coalition, the state has cut its incarceration rate by 80 percent with alternative programs. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports.

LISTEN: Juvenile justice advocate on Ohio's alternatives

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In 1992, Ohio’s juvenile prisons held nearly two times the inmates they were designed for, and the overcrowding was projected to grow. Instead of building more prisons, the state began a pilot program to match non-violent juvenile offenders with community-based alternative programs.

Erin Davies of the Juvenile Justice Coalition says the combination of family counseling, mental health and substance abuse services has cut recidivism rates and saved the state millions of dollars. She says Cuyahoga County’s recent incarceration numbers show how well the effort is working.

“(From) 2009 to 2014, went from 293 youth being admitted to youth prisons down to 110. Summit went from 132 youth to just 10."

Davies adds that while the effort is successful, matching under-aged offenders to the most effective alternative programs is complicated and those formulas still need to be constantly updated to provide the best outcomes. 

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