California has more incarcerated youth than any other state in the nation and has the 11th-highest youth confinement rate, according to a report released Wednesday.
Although the number of youth in jails, prisons or other juvenile detention centers has declined from 1997 to 2010, youth advocates cited in the Kids Count Data Snapshot by the Annie E. Casey Foundation said more can be done to keep teens in school and out of trouble.
"California must implement a more proactive and effective approach to youth incarceration," said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, which distributed the report. "We know that kids who regularly attend school are far more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to enter the criminal justice system. We need to start there."
The organization praised positive behavior and conflict resolution programs in Oakland and Richmond, which help reduce suspensions and expulsions and help teens understand the consequences of their actions.
"Students need good models of how to resolve conflict effectively without vengeance and without violence," said Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flint. "That's something they don't always get in their homes."
West Contra Costa school district Trustee Charles Ramsey said Richmond High and other schools are encouraging students to talk about their feelings and actions to get at root problems that may cause them to act out.
"We've had a real low suspension rate this year," he said. "I think there's a lot of factors and variables, but I always think communication's important and people having dialogues and discussion helps keep problems from festering."
In San Jose, Yerba Buena High is being honored Friday for its programs aimed at reducing the suspension rate and keeping students focused on school and staying out of trouble.
Dana Bunnet, director of the Kids in Common advocacy group honoring the school, praised its innovative partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department and Police Department, which helps school officials stay connected to students when they're not on campus.
"They're able to touch base with them and give them opportunities to express their pain and anger or whatever emotions they're feeling," she said. "So, in general, they create this caring climate in school."
She said a school-to-prison pipeline is created when students get suspended, drop out, then end up committing crimes.
"One suspension in middle school is a big predictor of a kid dropping out of school," she said. "It's about figuring out what's going on and addressing those underlying issues."
1997 Number 1997 Rate per 100,000 2010 Number 2010 Rate per 100,000
19,899 524 11,532 271
The KIDS COUNT® Data Snapshot, including youth incarceration stats, is available at www.childrennow.org/aecyouthincarceration.