Several states have been closing their youth prisons because there are fewer underage inmates and more offenders are being sent to treatment programs instead, the AP reports. Missouri, for example, is a national leader of sending troubled kids to programs that function more like schools.
During the early 1990s, though, tough-on-crime legislators turned to the juvenile system. Nearly every state lowered the minimum age for juveniles to be tried as adults or increased the kind of crimes that land kids in the adult system.
But juvenile arrest rates dropped, falling 33 percent between 1997 and 2008, according to the latest U.S. Justice Department data.