Treating kids like criminals just makes criminals. Kansas finally gets it.

Kansas Senate Bill 367 is a big deal.

Kansas has a major juvenile justice problem on its hands.

With more than 200 centers housing troubled youth across the state, Kansas has an abnormally high rate of young repeat offenders and a high rate of courts removing kids from their homes to stay in such facilities, KMBC 9 News reported. Those two facts could have something to do with one another (which actually makes a lot of sense).

That's why Senate Bill 367 — heralded as "the state’s premier piece of legislation in 2016" — is actually a big deal.



Senate Bill 367 prioritizes treatment and rehabilitation over punishment for many juvenile offenders in hopes it will keep kids from becoming criminals down the road.

Under the law, low-level offenders — kids who aren't considered a threat to public safety — will be less likely to be sentenced to a juvenile center for probation violations, according to The Topeka-Capital Journal. Instead, they'll stay with their families and participate in community programs that provide services like counseling and therapy.

Throughout the next five years, the number of kids sent to out-of-home facilities for their offenses will drop roughly 60%, The Kansas City Star reported. That will save the state about $72 million over that time period — funds that will be redirected toward the community programs.

A detention center for juveniles in France. Photo by Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images.

"Being smart on crime promotes public safety and the rehabilitation of youthful offenders so that they can become law-abiding citizens," said Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the bill into law on April 11, 2016. "The legislation aligns our juvenile justice system with what the research shows works best to reduce victimization, keep families strong, and guide youth towards a better path."

Brownback is right — research has shown treatment over incarceration has better long-term effects for individuals and communities alike. So why aren't more states on board?

Detention centers are harmful to kids and make it less likely that kids who spend time there will become successful, stable adults. That affects all of us.

According to a report from the Justice Policy Institute, juvenile detention centers can have "a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being, their education, and their employment." The nonprofit points out these centers can increase rates of depression and suicide among youth, and reduce their ability to retain a job after leaving.

What's more, juvenile centers — like the larger U.S. justice system — disproportionately harm minorities: Even when they commit the same crimes as their white counterparts, black and brown youth are more likely to be detained.

Photo via iStock.

On the other hand, there's plenty of research suggesting that treatment and rehabilitation services are successful at reducing recidivism, the act of falling back into criminal behavior, for adult and youth offenders alike.

Let's hope more state and federal officials take a hint from Kansas and prioritize the long-term wellbeing of our youth.

"The justice system, and therefore, policymakers, need to focus on the root causes of incarceration and on rehabilitation — not just punishment en masse," prisons reform author Christopher Zoukis wrote for The Huffington Post, noting our "youth can change and learn" before going too far down the wrong path.

"Kansas is taking steps in the right direction."

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

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Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

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Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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