Annie E. Casey Foundation CEO Calls for States to Close ‘Youth Prisons’

Posted June 24, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog aecfceocallsforstatestoclose 2015

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

In a TEDx talk record­ed today, the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion chal­lenged states across the coun­try to close all youth pris­ons, which he said under­mine the devel­op­ment of young peo­ple who get into trou­ble with the law and expose them to grave dan­gers while fail­ing to improve pub­lic safety.

Patrick McCarthy, the Casey Foun­da­tion leader, issued his call to gov­er­nors and leg­is­la­tors in the TEDx­Penn­syl­va­ni­aAv­enue ses­sion record­ed at the New­se­um in Wash­ing­ton, DC. TEDx is an inde­pen­dent ver­sion of the influ­en­tial TED series of talks, which shares ideas from a broad spec­trum — from sci­ence to busi­ness to glob­al issues. The Foun­da­tion has worked to reform juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems for 23 years through its Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive and is launch­ing an effort to close youth pris­ons.

I believe it’s long past time to close these inhu­mane, inef­fec­tive, waste­ful fac­to­ries of fail­ure once and for all. Every one of them,” McCarthy said in his TEDx talk. We need to admit that what we’re doing doesn’t work, and is mak­ing the prob­lem worse while cost­ing bil­lions of dol­lars and ruin­ing thou­sands of lives.”

McCarthy pledged the Foundation’s sup­port to any state will­ing to join its com­mit­ment to close large secure juve­nile facil­i­ties that resem­ble adult cor­rec­tions facil­i­ties. He recalled ear­ly in his career when he was assigned to admin­is­ter such a facil­i­ty. His first vis­it revealed chil­dren in shack­les, inces­sant noise, glar­ing lights, cor­rec­tions offi­cers with mace and iso­la­tion rooms for youth. He made a num­ber of per­son­nel and pro­gram­mat­ic changes designed to improve con­di­tions before final­ly con­clud­ing that facil­i­ties like his were inher­ent­ly flawed.

A new report released by the Foun­da­tion today, Mal­treat­ment of Youth in U.S. Juve­nile Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ties val­i­dates his con­clu­sion. The report doc­u­ments instances of mal­treat­ment in an increas­ing num­ber of facil­i­ties since Casey pub­lished a sig­na­ture report on the issue in 2011, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reduc­ing Juve­nile Incar­cer­a­tion. The 2011 report found that states relied heav­i­ly on con­fine­ment that exposed youth to wide­spread mal­treat­ment, high recidi­vism rates and incar­cer­a­tion of chil­dren who pose no sig­nif­i­cant threats to pub­lic safe­ty while ignor­ing the emer­gence of effec­tive treat­ment models.

The new report doc­u­ment­ed sys­temic abuse to chil­dren in 29 states and sub­stan­tial evi­dence of mal­treat­ment in three addi­tion­al states since 2000. The report cites wide­spread phys­i­cal abuse and exces­sive use of force by juve­nile cor­rec­tions staff, includ­ing inci­dents described as heinous.” It also finds an epi­dem­ic” of sex­u­al abuse, cit­ing a 2013 Bureau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics sur­vey on the top­ic find­ing that more than 10% of young peo­ple had been vic­tim­ized sex­u­al­ly by staff or oth­er youth.

The report also describes over­re­liance on iso­la­tion – or soli­tary con­fine­ment – and restraints, youth-on-youth vio­lence and fre­quent vio­lence against staff. On any giv­en day, about 60,000 youth are in secure con­fine­ment, most of them for non­vi­o­lent offenses.

The Mal­treat­ment of Youth report shows that despite the best inten­tions of the peo­ple who run and work in them, youth pris­ons are inher­ent­ly prone to abuse of the young peo­ple they are sup­posed to reha­bil­i­tate,” said Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. Even for the small por­tion of kids who have com­mit­ted seri­ous crimes and require con­fine­ment, this out­dat­ed mod­el needs to be replaced with strate­gies we know encour­age youth devel­op­ment and growth.”

McCarthy said states can pro­duce bet­ter out­comes for young peo­ple who get into trou­ble with the law, and they should com­mit to three things: First, decrease the num­ber of youth going into juve­nile sys­tems by half; sec­ond, improve exist­ing sys­tems by expand­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based and fam­i­ly-cen­tered pro­grams proven to help kids who have the most seri­ous prob­lems; and third, elim­i­nate all pub­licly oper­at­ed and con­tract­ed youth pris­ons and instead use small, treat­ment-inten­sive secure care programs.

He pledged sup­port by bring­ing the Foundation’s near­ly quar­ter cen­tu­ry of juve­nile jus­tice reform exper­tise to states that com­mit to clos­ing youth prisons.

I make this offer to every state in the nation,” McCarthy said. When you are ready, con­tact us and we’ll be there.”

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