Left-behind kids

Although only five percent of youth in the system are accused of violent crimes, there is very little existing literature discussing how best to serve these youth, who are still being sent to outdated and ineffective youth prisons, or even worse, being automatically transferred to the adult system. The present study discusses best practices for caring for youth who have committed serious and violent offenses. As a baseline, it discusses how children, even those who have committed violent crimes, can be rehabilitated, and do best in the juvenile justice system, as opposed to the adult system. Additionally, this policy study makes recommendations on how to restructure secure confinement so it benefits both children, and the society to which they will return.

Top Points:

  1. The juvenile justice system has already recognized many best practices, such as community-based alternatives, to addressing non-violent juvenile offenses.
  2. However, youth accused of violent crimes are “left-behind” as these recommendations are often not applied to them. Instead, they are sent to the adult system, or outdated, ineffective youth prisons in the juvenile justice system.
  3. Youth in the adult system do very poorly–they are vulnerable to rape and physical abuse, they are often placed in solitary confinement, and do not receive age-appropriate services. Even youth who commit violent or serious offenses are better served by the juvenile justice system.
  4. In general, too many youths are confined, because the definition of serious and violent has ballooned out of control. Depending on the jurisdiction, a schoolyard fight can be “serious and violent,” or a school disciplinary issue to be dealt with outside of the criminal justice system.
  5. When secure confinement is necessary, juvenile secure care facilities and programming should be created with three pillars in mind: reducing isolation and institutionalism, fostering positive relationships and focusing on reentry from day one.
  6. Currently, youth detained in the juvenile system are often confined in large, rural youth prisons, where sexual and physical abuse runs rampant, and youth are less likely to stay connected to their family and community because of the rural locations.
  7. Environment and design of juvenile facilities should be as home-like and deinstitutionalized as possible.
  8. Youth should not be placed in solitary confinement as a form of discipline, and should not remain isolated more than a few hours. Staff should remain with the youth when they are isolated from their peers.
  9. All efforts should be made to foster positive relationships with family, by reformulating and improving visitation procedures, and creating better relationships between staff and youth.
  10. Innovative programs in Washington D.C., Missouri, and Germany can serve as positive examples in reformulating juvenile detention environments.


Image credit: Sabphoto

Featured Publications