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

Posted June 24, 2015
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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