Momentum Builds in States to End the Youth Prison Model

Posted January 26, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Momentum builds for ending youth prison model.

Credit: Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

America’s long­stand­ing youth prison mod­el — which empha­sizes com­pli­ance, con­trol and pun­ish­ment — exac­er­bates youth trau­ma and inhibits pos­i­tive growth while fail­ing to enhance pub­lic safe­ty. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, this mod­el is fad­ing across the nation.

In Jan­u­ary 2018, New Jer­sey became the lat­est state to announce plans to close a youth prison as part of a com­pre­hen­sive effort to reform its juve­nile jus­tice system.

Watch Patrick McCarthy’s TEDx Talk on youth pris­ons as fac­to­ries of failure

The Gar­den State is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Vir­ginia, Con­necti­cut and Wis­con­sin, where gov­er­nors have recent­ly ordered the clo­sure of youth pris­ons in favor of a con­tin­u­um of com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­grams. The few youth in these states who require secure con­fine­ment will move to small­er ther­a­peu­tic facil­i­ties that pri­or­i­tize age-appro­pri­ate rehabilitation.

Local juris­dic­tions are also chang­ing course. Los Ange­les Coun­ty opened Cam­pus Kil­patrick and is begin­ning to imple­ment the L.A. Mod­el,” which is a col­lec­tion of ther­a­peu­tic-based prac­tices aimed at improv­ing care in juve­nile pro­ba­tion camps.

The momen­tum is begin­ning to shift,” says Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent and Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Patrick McCarthy, who co-authored a report on reimag­in­ing the youth prison mod­el. Ear­ly-adopter states and local­i­ties are try­ing alter­na­tive approach­es, and evi­dence-builders are show­ing the way.”

The Casey Foun­da­tion has a unique per­spec­tive on this work, thanks to its sup­port­ing role — both finan­cial­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly — in trans­form­ing Virginia’s youth jus­tice sys­tem over the past three years. The Foun­da­tion will be lever­ag­ing this expe­ri­ence in New Jer­sey, as it helps the state’s juve­nile deten­tion sys­tem under­go a sim­i­lar transformation.

This basic task — chang­ing a pub­lic sys­tem — is gru­el­ing work. Stake­hold­ers must con­front dif­fi­cult trade-offs between their goals and the fis­cal, logis­ti­cal and polit­i­cal real­i­ties of a time and place. Elect­ed offi­cials, juve­nile jus­tice agency admin­is­tra­tors and staff, advo­cates and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers — includ­ing sys­tem-involved youth and their fam­i­lies — should be com­mend­ed for their per­sis­tence in pur­su­ing these com­plex chal­lenges,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of Casey’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group.

If stake­hold­ers are suc­cess­ful, the poten­tial to improve not just sys­tems — but lives — is sig­nif­i­cant. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty moment for New Jer­sey, Vir­ginia, Con­necti­cut, Wis­con­sin, Los Ange­les and oth­er areas through­out the coun­try to make changes that will achieve safer com­mu­ni­ties and bet­ter out­comes for young peo­ple,” Balis says.

Down­load The Future of Youth Jus­tice: A Com­mu­ni­ty-Based Alter­na­tive to the Youth Prison Model

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