New Report Recommends Actions to Replace the Youth Prison Model

Posted October 21, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Above: Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management and the National Institute of Justice today released a new report with recommendations for a common-sense, bipartisan approach to halt the heavy reliance on incarcerating young people. The report, The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model, documents how conclusively youth prisons fail at protecting the community or turning young lives around.

Rather than perpetuating a failed model that is inherently flawed, the authors argue that states and localities should adopt a different approach, one that protects public safety and is more informed by what works. The authors conclude that the youth prison model should be replaced with a continuum of community-based programs and, for the few youth who require secure confinement, smaller homelike facilities that prioritize age-appropriate rehabilitation. The report features several states that have moved in this direction to demonstrate that community-based approaches can reduce recidivism, control costs and promote public safety.

Patrick McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is a co-author of the report, along with Miriam Shark, a former associate director at the Foundation, and Vincent Schiraldi, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. Both McCarthy and Schiraldi were once youth correctional administrators.

McCarthy and Schiraldi presented the report to stakeholders and researchers in the juvenile justice field at an event in Washington, D.C. convened by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. There, a panel of experts and government officials discussed the effectiveness of community-based programs that prioritize age-appropriate rehabilitation. Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, National Institute of Justice Director Nancy Rodriguez and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Administrator Robert L. Listenbee were among the speakers.

“The time has come to accomplish what we’ve all known needed to happen. We need to and we can close every last youth prison in the country,” said McCarthy at the Department of Justice convening. “To be sure, some kids need secure confinement but far, far fewer than today and for much shorter periods…it is time to replace our approach with a community-based, youth development-oriented system that does what it is meant to do – help kids who have come in contact with the law to get back on track.”

Schiraldi made the case for reorienting system by taking four action steps that he dubbed the “4Rs” for reduce, reform, replace and reinvest. Using examples from Texas, California, Ohio, Missouri and New York City, Schiraldi described how jurisdictions could prioritize youth development and accountability over mindless punishment.