SALT LAKE CITY — The juvenile crime rate in Utah has dropped from more than 6 percent to less than 1 percent over the last 20 years, and experts attribute the decline to the state’s approach to corrections and prevention.
The Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services oversees juvenile offenders and rehabilitation in Utah. The number of minors referred to court has declined 20 percent since 2008, with the trend expected to continue through 2011. Juvenile detention centers that were once overcrowded now have so many empty beds that the legislature recently discussed shuttering some rural facilities.
Some officials attribute the decline in juvenile crime to the state’s shift away from incarceration. Almost 90 percent of minors referred to juvenile court will never reoffend, so for those children, a ticket or community service is enough to keep them from committing additional crimes, officials say.
Researchers have developed theoretical models that help professionals identify children who would benefit from more programs and services, and Utah has implemented hundreds of intervention programs targeting children, from infancy to adolescence, to steer them away from a life of crime.
Experts say successful programs target circumstances that render children likely to turn to crime, such as an unstable family life, school trouble and substance abuse.
YouthWorks — one such program operating in the state — requires teens to learn construction skills and build houses after school. As a requirement for keeping their paychecks, participants must attend a life skills class that teaches them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Despite the success in Utah, research shows that, nationwide, only about 5 percent of intervention programs succeed in keeping minors from committing crimes.