Juvenile Justice Coalition

Speaking Out with Ohio's Youth

Category: Press Releases

Ohio spends $185,303 to incarcerate youth annually

Advocates urge shifting resources from incarceration to investing in youth

Columbus, OH — Today, the Juvenile Justice Coalition of Ohio (JJC) called on Governor Mike DeWine and state legislators to shift resources away from incarceration to investing in youth in their communities in light of new data released by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) that shows Ohio spends $185,303 annually to incarcerate one young person. A majority of these young people are Black, as Black youth are five times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated, even as rates of youth incarceration are declining across the nation.

In comparison, Ohio only spends $12,102 annually to educate a young person. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars every year on police budgets and locking up young people, Ohio should prioritize helping young people. Local leaders can instead invest resources that will place young people in healthier living arrangements, with access to good public education, and in a job with a living wage, rather than behind bars, in solitary confinement and at risk of COVID-19.

“Ohio spends millions of dollars on a system that hurts people. Criminalizing youth contributes to the cycle of poverty that traps people and families, especially those who are Black and brown, disabled, LGBTQ+, and low-income. Incarceration and detention does not improve the conditions of a child or teen’s life which actually lead to better outcomes, such as housing, education, mental and physical healthcare, and financial stability,” said Kenza Kamal, Policy Director, Juvenile Justice Coalition. “When policymakers invest in punishment, they are choosing to sacrifice the safety and wellbeing of our communities. Ohio has a huge opportunity to take the millions of dollars we spend on locking up our youth and invest those dollars into services that actually support and divert them from the court system.”

Ohio cannot afford the continued exorbitant cost to incarcerate youth, which inflicts more damage than good, and increases the likelihood that they will end up in the adult criminal justice system. No one understands that better than Davion, who was jailed as a child, pulled into the juvenile system at the age of 11. Now, at 22, he is incarcerated in the adult system.

“For over 10 years of my life I have been dealing with the jail system on and off. It has put more traumatizing effects on my life than recovering effects. The system only breaks down the mind of a teen and worsens them…they always tell us that of the youth who get released, there’s an 80% reoffender rate. When you realize the odds were put against you in life and the whole thing revolves around money, it’s even more devastating not only for me to be in the situation, but for my loved ones and friends who are dealing with this crisis,” said Davion. “When I found out how much money Ohio spends per teenager on locking us up, it made me want to cry. The state has robbed me of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent on incarcerating me for years, which on my end I never felt like they used it in the right way.”

Sticker Shock 2020: The Cost of Youth Incarceration        


Juvenile Justice Coalition is a statewide organization that works through policy advocacy and with Ohio youth and families who are at risk of involvement or involved in the juvenile court system.

Youth at Risk as First Staff Tests Positive for COVID-19 at Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center (May 5, 2020)

Columbus, OH, May 5, 2020 — This week, the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center reported its first positive staff cases of COVID-19. These test results now follow the recent news that the virus has started to spread in an Ohio youth prison, with 21 youth and nine staff testing positive in Cuyahoga Hills JCF at the latest count.

“Positive staff cases should sound the alarm bells. The virus can only get into facilities if it is brought in, and detained youth cannot socially distance from staff, meaning the young people inside have now been exposed and endangered,” said Aramis Sundiata, Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition

In March, following the urging of the ACLU of Ohio and advocacy groups including the Juvenile Justice Coalition, the Department of Youth Services began publishing daily COVID-19 data. There is currently no similar transparency from juvenile jails across the state. “If they wait until their first positive test to take action, it will be too late. Local juvenile facilities must report what steps they’ve taken to reduce their population and improve conditions, and Governor DeWine and DYS must direct these facilities to do so,” said Kenza Kamal, Policy Director at the Juvenile Justice Coalition.

“Just isolating youth is not a solution, as that creates solitary confinement-like conditions which are especially dangerous and traumatic for young people,” Kamal added.

Research shows that incarceration is harmful to young people and that Black, Native, and Latinx youth are overrepresented in the system. “When the children who are locked away are disproportionately of color, that means releasing youth is not only a matter of public health, but of racial justice,” concluded Sundiata.

JJC recommends releasing youth who are currently detained or incarcerated and halting the arrest or incarceration of additional youth. While in-person visitations and programs are suspended, youth should not be charged to access phone and video communication with their families and support systems. For youth on probation, any probation conditions which require travel, social interaction, and which cost the families, should not be enforced in order to reduce virus exposure and financial burden. For youth in state facilities, the ACLU of Ohio and JJC demand the state test all youth, release all youth to community-based alternatives starting with the most medically vulnerable, and publish the number of youth who have been released and the criteria DYS has been using to determine release eligibility.


Juvenile Justice Coalition is a statewide organization that works through policy advocacy and with Ohio youth and families who are at risk of involvement or involved in the juvenile court system.

COVID-19 Endangers Incarcerated Youth (March 20, 2020)

Columbus, OH, March 20, 2020 — On Thursday, March 19th the Juvenile Justice Coalition delivered a letter to Governor DeWine, co-signed by the ACLU of Ohio and Policy Matters Ohio, requesting the creation of a plan to protect young people inside the juvenile justice system from the spread of COVID-19. Ohio joined 22 other states in urging their governors and juvenile justice system administrators to reduce the fatal harm being caused by the novel coronavirus.

The letter outlines three strategies to ensure that facilities are as empty and safe as possible: reduce the population of young people in state and local facilities, mitigate the impacts on youth while they await release, and reduce consequences of probation.

JJC recommends releasing youth who are currently detained or incarcerated and halting the arrest or incarceration of additional youth. While in-person visitations and programs are suspended, youth should not be charged to access phone and video communication with their families and support systems. For youth on probation, any probation conditions which require travel, social interaction, and which cost the families, should not be enforced in order to reduce virus exposure and financial burden.

“The governor has taken steps to protect children and families by closing schools, but children behind bars can’t engage in social distancing or other safe practices. Some adult courts in counties across Ohio are doing the right thing by reducing their jail populations but we need to be doing the same in the juvenile system, and quickly,” concluded JJC Executive Director, Aramis Sundiata.

Research shows that incarcerated populations are most at risk during a public health crisis. As COVID-19 spreads quickly in enclosed spaces, such as cruise ships and nursing homes, it can spread just as quickly in detention centers, prisons and jails, and facilities are not equipped to handle the medical needs of youth if a COVID-19 outbreak should occur inside a juvenile detention or correctional facility

“Children should not be incarcerated to begin with. Leaving them in these conditions, during a pandemic unlike anything we’ve ever seen, should not even be an option,” added Kenza Kamal, JJC Policy Director.

Juvenile Justice Coalition is a state-wide advocacy organization that works with Ohio youth who are at risk of involvement or involved in the juvenile court system. JJC works mainly through policy advocacy and works with youth and families. 

Cost & Benefits of Ohio’s Juvenile Justice System

Ohio Cost & Benefits of JJ System.  This brochure, released in October 2011, illustrates the costs & benefits of investing in Ohio’s youth.

Letter urges Ohio Legislature to convene, consider reforms to criminal and juvenile justice systems

On November 9, 2010, 24 signatories sent a letter to Gov. Strickland, Senate President Harris, and Speaker Budish, urging them to convene the 128th General Assembly to consider Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 235.  The letter was promoted through a press release.

letter to the editor on troubled facilities

On December 2, 2010, JJC submitted letters to the editor of major Ohio newspapers regarding our concerns with ODYS facilities.

Juvenile Detention Reform in Ohio Press Release

 PRESS RELEASE on Juvenile Detention Reform in Ohio:  November 1, 2010



Columbus, OH, November 1, 2010 – With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Cincinnati Bar Foundation, the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio, the Children’s Law Center, Inc., the Juvenile Justice Coalition – Ohio and Voices for Ohio’s Children are collaborating to increase awareness and support among key stakeholders and the general public for juvenile pretrial detention reform in Ohio with the release of two documents:  Rethinking Juvenile Detention in Ohio Issue Brief outlining the current research and impact of juvenile pre-trial detention and Juvenile Detention Reform in Ohio Fact Sheet.  Both documents support the adoption of alternatives that will keep youth out of pretrial detention whenever possible, while maintaining community safety.   Amy Swanson, Executive Director of Voices for Ohio’s Children states, “Voices for Ohio’s Children is excited to work in partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio, Children’s Law Center and the Juvenile Justice Coalition in supporting smart investments in community based programs that benefit children and families.”

Kim Brooks Tandy, Executive Director of the Children’s Law Center, points out that, “This initiative is important to existing reforms in Ohio which can safely reduce the rate of incarceration of children, and achieve better outcomes for them.  The front end of the system can be significantly impacted by eliminating the unnecessary use of detention.”

Research shows that:

  • Pretrial detention is an expensive option that does little to help juveniles or keep the community safe.
  • Detention reform saves scarce public dollars and redirects resources toward more cost-effective, community-based alternatives to confinement.
  • Jurisdictions employing detention alternatives have found reductions in the following: juvenile crime, the number of youth in long-term incarceration, costs associated with the juvenile justice system, and disproportionate minority contact.


Ronald Browder, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio, emphasizes that, “It is time to move beyond the research findings and begin to implement the alternatives that have been proven to make a positive impact on both the youth and community.”

Five Ohio counties are participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a nationally recognized model created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to promote detention reform.  The model is being implemented in Ohio under the leadership of the juvenile courts in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Montgomery, and Summit counties and the Ohio Department of Youth Services.  This initiative is an opportunity to improve the front-end of the juvenile justice system based on research and evidence-informed practices, as part of larger juvenile justice reforms in Ohio.   Sharon Weitzenhof, the Director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition, explains that, “The Juvenile Justice Coalition believes that by implementing the JDAI in Ohio, we will make great progress in improving our juvenile justice system, since the initiative starts at the entry point.”

Angela Chang, Staff Attorney, JDAI Defender Project, Children’s Law Center, Inc. also states that, “Implementing counties will have a chance to take leadership in Ohio by developing innovative and collaborative methods to reach the JDAI goals with the support of the expertise from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. JDAI is a unique process that will also bring together parties that may have been historically adversarial to the table to work together collaboratively to reach these common goals in their communities.”

The policy brief and accompanying fact sheet highlight JDAI’s goals of reducing over-reliance on juvenile pretrial detention without jeopardizing public safety, obtaining better outcomes for youth through better assessment and alternatives, promoting effective legal representation at the detention hearing stage, and reducing overrepresentation of youth from communities of color in the system.

To access the documents, please go to: www.childrensdefense.org/ohio; www.childrenslawky.org; www.juvenilecoalition.org; and http://www.vfc-oh.org.

Hard copies may also be obtained by contacting Barbara Turpin at 614-221-2244 or bturpin@cdfohio.org.

Ohioans concerned about mistreatment of children in ODYS institutions

On October 12, 2004, the Juvenile Justice Coalition, in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Ohio, organized a meeting of representatives from Ohio organizations concerned about children and juvenile justice issues. The catalyst for the meeting was the allegations of abuse in Ohio’s juvenile correctional facilities, brought to light by newspaper investigations and a report prepared by Fred Cohen for the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS).

Summary of problems:

  • Scioto Correctional Facility issues identified in the Cohen report – “Our site visits convinced each team member that there has been and remains a culture of violence among the uniformed staff, that verbal and physical abuse are common, that sexual misconduct by staff occurs, only crisis-type mental health care is available, and structured programming consistent with clearly stated and shared objectives is virtually non-existent.”
  • A Federal lawsuit filed in July 2004 by the Children’s Law Center claims that ODYS routinely denies juveniles access to legal help. According to the lawsuit, the Department of Youth Services did not adequately respond to the allegations of abuse, then failed to provide legal assistance despite repeated requests for help.
  • Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility (for sexual offenders) – a Columbus Dispatch investigation identified a significant amount of sexual activity among residents and a lack of appropriate treatment/ supervision of residents.

We are very concerned about the problems addressed in the Cohen report related to the safety and appropriate treatment of residents at Scioto Correctional Facility. Furthermore, we have serious concerns about the safety of residents and inadequate programming and treatment at all ODYS facilities. No one is charged with oversight of ODYS facilities. Within the current environment, we question the ability of ODYS to provide adequate care for youngsters in their care. There should be zero tolerance for abuse of residents or the denial of their civil and legal rights.

We hold the Ohio Executive and Legislative branches responsible for the care, protection, and mental and physical development of children in ODYS facilities (Ohio Revised Code Section 2152.01). We would like to meet with you to discuss these issues.

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