Hawaii is spending nearly $200,000 per bed per year to house juvenile offenders, most of whom got in trouble for non-violent low-level crimes.

But the state could save millions of dollars a year by focusing only on the most serious offenders and putting the savings back into the community to help with mental health and substance abuse programs for young offenders, juvenile justice experts say.

A new report released on Friday outlined a series of reforms that could reduce the number of kids detained by 60 percent and save $11 million by 2019.

The analysis, the product of Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s working group that included state and local officials, recommended that the state stop locking up kids convicted of misdemeanors.

“Secure confinement has no effect on the risk to reoffend for many youth, and in some cases, may actually increase the likelihood of reoffending,” the report says.

Kids who commit felonies or have their probation revoked would still be eligible for detention.

The report suggested that the state reinvest the savings in circuit courts and mental health and substance abuse treatment centers. Some 80 percent of youth detainees have substance abuse problems.

In addition, the state’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division needs to reevaluate its criteria for mental health services, the report found. Currently, young people are only eligible for those services if they’re receiving Medicaid or qualify for special education, which leaves out a lot of kids in need.

Abercrombie, who spoke at a press conference at the state Capitol on Friday announcing the findings, supports the recommendations and says he may request money from the Legislature this session to implement some aspects of the report.

Friday’s report is a big change from four years ago, when a different study blasted Hawaii’s juvenile justice system for abusive practices and lack of accountability.

By 2011, the situation had improved with more staff training and a stronger focus on education.

But there’s a lot more to be done. Although the number of kids admitted to the state’s juvenile facility has fallen by more than 40 percent in the last decade, the amount of time spent in detention has almost tripled since 2004.

The state now spends $199,320 per juvenile detainee each year. That’s nearly 17 times the amount the state spends on each public school student.

More than 70 percent of kids detained this year committed non-violent offenses and 45 percent of offenders over the past five years had no prior felonies. Youth struggle with a lack of mental health and substance abuse services, and a disproportionate number of kids who end up in the state’s facility come from neighbor islands.

“Despite longer stays and higher costs, three-quarters of youth leaving Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility are re-adjucated delinquent or reconvicted within three years,” the report’s summary says.

Judge R. Mark Browning said the initiative was a dream come true for him and that the collaboration on the report was unprecedented in his 18-year career as a judge.

“Incarceration is simply not the answer,” he said.

Here are 24 recommendations from the report:

  • Focus HYCF Beds on More Serious Youth
  • Reinvest the Savings in Local Alternatives
  • Provide Funding for Critical Treatment and Services in Communities
  • Refocus Efforts on Substance Abuse Needs
  • Review Eligibility for Mental Health Services
  • Guide Rehabilitation in HYCF with Findings of Fact
  • Clarify the Criteria Used to Release Youth from HYCF
  • Require the Creation of Offender Reentry Plans
  • Provide Clear Diversion Authority for Youth Who Do Not Need Justice System Interventions
  • Standardize Criteria for Informal Adjustment
  • Codify Current Administrative Monitoring Practices
  • Provide for a Risk and Needs Assessment to Assist Judges in Disposition Decisions
  • Use Risk and Needs Assessments to Drive Supervision
  • Create Case Plans to Focus Probation on Successful Outcomes
  • Require at Least One Home Visit for Probated Youth
  • Provide Annual Training for Probation Officers
  • Create Graduated Sanction and Incentives for Probated Youth
  • Invest in Proven Practices to Reduce Reoffending
  • Establish a System of Earned Discharge for Youth to Incentivize Success
  • Provide for Collaboration Between the Judiciary and Mental Health Clinicians
  • Provide a Pathway to Earlier Referrals and Access to Mental Health Services
  • Enhance Interagency Collaboration
  • Collect, Analyze, Report and Discuss Outcome Measures and Justice System Data
  • Empower an Oversight Committee to Monitor Reforms and Report Outcome Measures

Read the full report below:

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