Why is Arkansas Flailing in Juvenile Justice? Blame the Good Guys.
Over the past two years, Arkansas’ juvenile justice system has burst into the news repeatedly — and for all the wrong reasons. In August 2014, the Disability Rights Center documented alarming conditions in the state’s largest juvenile correctional facility. In 2015, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette investigated the state’s continuing penchant for jailing children brought to court for status offenses — misbehaviors like skipping school or running away from home that are not illegal for adults — contradicting an overwhelming expert consensus that this is a recipe for ruined lives.
This year, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has made news by single-handedly derailing reauthorization of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in protest against legislative language that would tighten the federal government’s restrictions on confining status offenders.
Meanwhile, even as juvenile incarceration has been plummeting nationwide, Arkansas has increased the number of youth committed to state custody for two straight years despite a continuing drop in juvenile arrests.
Why is Arkansas apparently moving backwards when many of its peers, including several deep red Southern states, have turned a corner by embracing more humane and proven approaches to juvenile justice?