WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill that would incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.

Recent studies have demonstrated that incarcerated youth are likely to experience a lower income earning capacity, become more reliant on government social programs as an adult, and are more likely than their peers to end up in the adult criminal justice system. On average, the state of Connecticut spends $134,000 per year to incarcerate just one child. In New Jersey, in 2013, it cost the state on average $136,000. Typically, juveniles are sentenced for nonviolent or minor offenses that could be punished using alternative options. The high social and economic costs related to incarcerating a child are unsustainable and experts agree that federal legislation is needed to help avoid youth incarceration when possible.

“It’s outrageous how much this country spends to lock up a single child for a non-violent offense. What’s worse is this country’s lack of support for policies that get kids back on the right track,” said Murphy. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run. The system as it exists now is unfair to everyone involved and needs to be changed. The Better Options for Kids Act supports community organizations that are doing the right thing and putting kids on the right path with smart policies that are proven to reduce youth incarceration. We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

"This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system" said Booker. "The state incentives offered here will help to proliferate proven strategies that will make our streets and schools safer, and provide countless children with brighter futures."

The federal government can incentivize states to adopt policies that improve youth outcomes and avoid using incarceration as the solution. The Better Options for Kids Act does this by prioritizing certain competitive SAMHSA grants to community-based organizations in states that have already implemented, or will use the funds to implement, specific best-practice policies to get at-risk youth back on the right track. Specifically, this bill incentivizes states with the following, results-oriented policies:

• Limiting court referrals for non-criminal offenses
• Establishing clear guidelines regarding the role of school resource officers
• Providing training for school districts on non-exclusionary discipline
• Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities

To read more about the Better Options for Kids Act, click here.