The number of young people sent to Colorado’s youth reform system because they killed a person jumped 32% in the past fiscal year, a worrying increase that coincides with the system’s largest rise in violent crime among youth in a decade.
Most surprising: In the past four years, the number of young people enrolled in Colorado’s youth services division with homicides and manslaughter has increased by 141%.
While 41 youths were charged with murder or premeditated murder in the last fiscal year, there were 17 such crimes committed in 2017. These numbers do not include teens who were tried in court as adults and sent to the adult prison system.
And Anders Jacobson, department manager, said the increase is “a reflection, unfortunately, of the access to guns on the street and the increase in youth violence.”
“Our state has done a good job of really reforming our efforts to make sure that for young people who don’t need to be in places that are far from the system, like the youth services department, we find different paths,” he said in an interview with the Colorado Sun. “Having said that, there will always be. A certain segment of the population needs our services. ”
The latest statistics, released Friday in the department’s annual report, show that even as the population has declined in the state’s youth reform system in recent years, crime has been on the rise. Young criminals also enter the system with more complex problems, including mental health and substance abuse.
The Juvenile Corrections System, which includes 12 state-run facilities, holds young people between the ages of 10 and 21 in custody – before their cases are referred to court – and after a judge has “committed” them.
The annual report includes data from July 2019 through June, a timeframe where the department has seen the biggest jump in the past decade of young people who have committed violent crimes. Five years ago, 23% of young people committed violent crimes compared to 41% now.
The percentage of youths who committed crimes against a person in the system also increased. Now, half of all young people in the system are serving penalties for crimes against a person, up from about 40% two years ago.
Jacobson said youth corrections experts in Colorado and other states are looking at an increase in violent crime. “Many people are trying to understand this phenomenon,” he said.
The report shows that as youth crime violence increases, so has young people’s needs for psychological treatment and other treatments. The need for a mental health intervention has increased by 10% in the past four years. Now, 67% of the youth entering the system need mental health treatment and 92% need drug abuse treatment.
One bright spot in the annual report: The system saw a 10% increase in young people who obtained a GED or high school diploma in the last fiscal year, despite the decrease in the overall population.
While the overall population in the youth reform system has decreased for years, it has decreased dramatically – by 38% – in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In April, Gov. Jared Police issued an executive order allowing the system to release young men imprisoned for early parole if they meet certain criteria.
The number of detainees in the prison system or serving sentences reached 375 this week.
Since March, 260 employees and 113 young people have been infected with the Coronavirus. However, there was only one active case among youth and 14 among employees this week.
The regime has undergone sweeping changes in the past several years in an effort to create a culture of rehabilitation and an atmosphere less like an adult prison. Assaults within detention and isolation facilities as punishment and physical custody have decreased since 2017, when the department enacted new policies.
“We rarely use solitude and when we do, 99% of these guys are out within an hour,” Jacobson said.
As the population has decreased, Jacobson said, the state has not closed youth centers, rather it has created smaller rooms and improved employee-to-youth ratios. At the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center, where an outbreak of drug abuse report found and many teens and staff were rioted in 2019, the department developed the concept of “smaller is better”. The large center is divided into three centers, Jacobson said, and youth rehabilitation and education programs have been improved.
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