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Data: Pulaski County on track to jail more children in 2018

November 12, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Pulaski County is on pace to jail 5 percent more children this year than in 2017, according to county data.

About 513 youths were locked up at the Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center between January and October, compared to 486 during the same months last year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Officials have expressed uncertainty about why the county is seeing an increase. Juvenile jail admission numbers were especially low in 2017 at 568 children, down from 701 in 2016.

Collected data doesn’t include how many children are repeat offenders and jailed multiple times in a given year.

According to youth advocates, some children were deemed “low-risk” in pre-detention screenings but were kept behind bars because there was nowhere else for them to go. Advocates are calling for an emergency shelter in Little Rock.

“Not everybody needs to be locked up,” said Pulaski County Circuit Judge Joyce Warren. “There needs to be another safe place for children to stay, another option available before locking them up.”

The national Center for Children’s Law and Policy evaluated Pulaski County’s 48-bed youth jail two years ago, and found that too many children being held likely didn’t belong behind bars. The report found that one-third of detained youths were released within three days, which raises the question of whether the children were a public safety threat. About 42 percent of detention admissions were youths charged with misdemeanor offenses, while about 54 percent of children at the facility were jailed for violating probation , according to the report.

Betty Guhman, director of the state Division of Youth Services, recently met with Pulaski County officials to “discuss rethinking their juvenile detention centers.” Guhman supports emergency shelters as a diversion service that directs children away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system while still holding them accountable.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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