EDITORIAL: Closing more youth prisons makes sense

February 9, 2018 GMT

Several places in Texas could be facing what this region went through in 2011 - the closure of a youth prison, a facility that seemed secure and employed many people. Yet Southeast Texas survived the shutting down of the Al Price Juvenile Correctional Facility, and so can other regions in Texas that experience the same thing.

The Price facility was closed for financial reasons. The state was going through a budget crisis, and the Legislature had to make some tough choices. That was OK; in fact it’s exactly what lawmakers should do when expenses exceed income.

We have preached the need for fiscal restraint in other aspects of state government, and it applies to Southeast Texas as well.

This time, however, the youth prisons are facing closure for a different reason. State officials are finally realizing the limitations of the lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality on criminal punishment. It’s expensive, and it doesn’t always work.

As Camille Cain, the new executive director of the troubled Texas Juvenile Justice Department put it, “We have to start looking at what the Texas model is. Smaller facilities, closer to home for as many kids as that is appropriate for is the ultimate goal.”

That makes sense.

For first offenders or those guilty of minor crimes, long prison sentences make it harder to transition back to becoming responsible citizens. Virtually all of those inmates are paroled or complete their sentences in less than a decade, so the question is not if but when they are released.

If they receive no education or job training in prison, their chances of returning to crime and thus prison are distressingly high. Smart states are trying to break that cycle before it starts and reserve those costly prison cells for inmates guilty of serious or violent crimes.

That goes double for youthful offenders, who have their whole lives ahead of them and can still be turned around.

This new approach is good for the inmates of youth prisons and taxpayers. State officials should support it in word and deed.


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