From left: Vincent Schiraldi, Mark Mertens, Gladys Carrión and Patrick McCarthy
To address the needs of the 46,000 young people still incarcerated on any given night, nearly 50 current and former leaders of juvenile justice agencies across the country have issued a joint call to close the nation’s remaining youth prisons and replace them with more effective interventions.
The members of the newly formed Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice (YCLJ) — supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others — will offer technical assistance and leadership training to public officials and advocates working to end the youth prison model. They will share their expertise in shutting facilities in favor of a continuum of community-based programs and, for the few youth who require secure confinement, designing smaller therapeutic facilities that prioritize age-appropriate rehabilitation. YCLJ is a project of the Justice Lab at Columbia University.
“As current and former leaders of youth justice agencies around the country, we believe that the time has come to close down youth prisons, once and for all,” said a joint statement released by the group. “Our collective experience ‘on the inside’ has shown us that separating youth from their families and communities and emphasizing punishment and retribution harms young people and their communities.”
The group’s statement also addressed what to do with youth convicted of serious offenses who pose a risk of reoffending: “Our call for closing youth prisons does not mean that we believe no youth should ever be placed out of their homes. In those cases where public safety absolutely requires that youth are in out-of-home care, we believe that this should only be for the minimum time necessary to address this risk — in a warm, nurturing environment close to home, with well-trained staff, that treats all children the way we would want our own children to be treated.”
The YCLJ co-chairs are Vincent Schiraldi and Gladys Carrión. Schiraldi, the YCLJ founder, was the former commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation and former director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in Washington, D.C. Carrión was former commissioner of both the New York City Administration for Children’s Services and New York State Office of Children and Family Services. The group’s leadership also includes Patrick McCarthy, the Foundation’s former president and CEO and one-time division director of the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families and Phyllis Becker, the former director of the Missouri Division of Youth Services, among others.
Nate Balis, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, said it was inspiring to see so many juvenile justice leaders come together around the goal of ending the use of the youth prison model. “YCLJ members know firsthand not only the opportunities and need for change but also the fiscal, logistical and political challenges inherent in transforming public systems and improving outcomes for youth people,” he said.
Related resources on closing youth prisons
Momentum Builds in States to End the Youth Prison Model
The Future of Youth Justice