Counting the cost of youth prison

Counting the cost of youth prison
Published: Sep. 4, 2013 at 8:55 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 4, 2013 at 9:10 PM HST
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KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On any given day kids in state custody at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility can number up to 75. On Wednesday it was 57 -- 36 in house and 21 on parole.

"The population drives our costs up. We have medical needs. Kids have dental needs, prescription needs," HYCF executive director David Hipp said.

Those costs aren't covered by Medicaid, so the state pays the medical expense. Add in personnel costs, food, shelter and education and the total bill per youth per year is about $200,000.

"What we ideally would like to do is reallocate those resources out in the community and serve a much greater number of kids than the limited numbers that we are able to serve at HYCF," Hipp said.

The Department of Human Services is part of the Juvenile Justice Working Group that's coming up with suggestions to lower cost and reduce the number of kids in the corrections system.

"I believe it could certainly be brought down to less than 50. For our state that would be fabulous," said Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate's Public Safety Committee.

"We would like to only house probably 30 of the kids we feel really are a risk to public safety," Hipp said.

He said closing two of three buildings would slash the $500,000 a-year utility bill, and intervening early could prevent many youths from ever getting to the point of youth prison.

"I think if we were to reach kids at more the front end of the system, address the issues when they're 12, 13, 14 years old, I think that we would have a much better shot of not relying on the back end of the system to resolve our problems," Hipp said.

He believes he can cut the $200,000 dollar-a-year cost per ward in half, and the number of re-offenders recommitted could go down by differentiating between a kid who commits another crime from one who just violates a curfew.

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