The issue

America’s heavy reliance on juvenile incarceration is unique among the world’s advanced nations.
 
On any given day in the United States, approximately 70,000 young people are in juvenile detention or correctional facilities.[1] Though violent crime arrest rates for juveniles are only marginally higher than in many other nations, the U.S. detains and commits children at close to five times the rate of its nearest successor, South Africa[2]. In the U.S, there are many different types of facilities which confine youth, including group homes, boot camps, wilderness programs, shelters, detention facilities, and residential treatment centers. 40% of the total incarcerated youth are held in long-term youth correctional facilities, some operated by private firms. Mostly these are large, prison-like facilities with “high-security” features such as concertina and barbed wire perimeters, isolation and confinement rooms, and “angry,” often oppressive architecture.[3] Unfortunately, the majority of incarceration is ineffective– according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report No Place For Kids, “For decades now, follow-up studies tracking youth released from juvenile corrections facilities have routinely reported high rates of recidivism.”[4] Analysis by the Foundation of re-incarceration rates found that youth who were placed in juvenile facilities were 38 times more likely to be arrested as adults.Thus, incarceration is an often harmful and ineffective method of addressing delinquent behavior.
 
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States, posits this list of recommendations:

1. Limit who can be incarcerated/committed.
2. Expand non-residential alternatives.
3. Change the financial incentives.
4. Adopt best juvenile justice practices.
5. Implement Missouri Model.
6. Use data to increase accountability for results.
 
 


[1] Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., and Puzzanchera, C. “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ 2011

[2] Hazel, Neal, Cross-National Comparison of Youth Justice, London: Youth Justice Board, 2008.

[3] Mendel, Richard A. No Place For Kids. Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2011.

[4] Ibid.