Three counties lead the state in rates of incarcerated youth, according to a recent report by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Unfortunately for us, the folks living in these rural lands of Arkansas we consider healthy and great for raising families, those counties are Columbia, Ouachita and Grant.
In the categories cited by the Democrat-Gazette article, we recorded young offender incarceration rates of 250 per thousand youths, the highest in Arkansas.
Are our kids that much worse behaved than other kids in the states? We doubt it, so why do we lock up young offenders at a greater rate than other counties?
It is said that a good lawyer doesn’t ask a question he or she doesn’t already know the answer to, and we suppose the same might be said of an editorial.
But we do not have an answer to why we have the unfortunate distinction of leading Arkansas counties in the frequency with which we incarcerate our youngsters.
We do know, thanks to the Democrat-Gazette article, that experts consider more than six months of incarceration for most teens to be excessive and detrimental, The longer young people stay behind bars, the article reported, the harder it is for them to merge back into family and home life, and the more likely it is they will commit more crimes and return to incarceration, according to local and national experts.
Yet, on average, Arkansas youths in state custody spend 10.5 months incarcerated, Democrat-Gazette analysis of data shows. And, as the figures illustrate, our counties in South Arkansas have the highest percentage of locked-up youths.
The article included the encouraging news that Arkansas officials have embarked on an overhaul of the juvenile justice system that they say will reduce the amount of time children spend in county lockups and move them more quickly into the state’s juvenile treatment centers.
But, regardless of what is done on the state level, we hope those who deal with young people in our South Arkansas counties earnestly consider these incarceration statistics and pursue alternatives to locking up troubled youths for long periods of time.