Washington DC (March 23) – Of the vast majority of youth arrested in the United States today, only five percent are accused of violent crimes. Often, this small percentage is “left-behind,” as many recognized best practices in juvenile justice and reform are not applied to them. This leaves these children to be sent to outdated and ineffective juvenile prisons, or worse, automatically transferred to the adult prison system.

In a new policy paper R Street Senior Criminal Justice Fellow, Nila Bala explains that in general, too many youth are confined because the definition of a “serious” or “violent” crime has ballooned. These children are then relegated to the adult system where they are vulnerable to abuse, sent to solitary confinement and do not receive age-appropriate services. Given their unique potential to be rehabilitated, however, these youth are better served by the juvenile justice system.

In order to maximize their potential for future success, the paper goes on to argue that juvenile detention facilities and programs should be created with three pillars in mind: reducing isolation and institutionalism, fostering positive relationships and focusing on reentry from day one. The object of these pillars is to fundamentally reorient society’s attitude toward children who need to be confined.

The author concludes, “Rather than to see these youth as a scourge on society to be isolated, controlled and locked away, it is time to include delinquent youth – even those who have committed serious and violent felonies – in the family of humanity, and more specifically, as deserving of the protections of childhood.” This, she argues, benefits not only the children themselves, but the society to which they will eventually return.