By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

When kids act up, locking them up is the wrong thing to do in most cases. A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delivers that finding. The foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, Bart Lubow, says putting kids behind bars doesn’t keep them from committing crimes later.

Montana is in the middle of a three-year plan to focus more on treatment, but the plan notes that judges need more options.

Lubow says diverting kids from detention facilities frees up money for those options, including mental health services.

“Not only downsize, but end up with a system that does better by the kids, that does better by public safety, and that does better by the public purse.”

The report also shows that locking kids up doesn’t provide public safety benefits, exposes young people to violence and abuse, while in almost every case, the “crimes” committed were minor.

Lubow says since the research shows locking kids up hasn’t paid off, it’s time for Montana and other states to invest in alternatives.

“What we want are public policies in pursuit of safety that work for everyone, including the kids who engage in these bad behaviors.”

He says that, for the few teenagers who are actually dangerous, large institutions should be replaced with small, treatment-oriented facilities. It’s one of six recommendations in the report to help states change their systems.

The full report, “No Place for Kids, The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration,” is at aecf.org. Montana’s three-year plan is at mbcc.mt.gov