Incarceration: The World Experienced by Child Offenders

Bart Lubow, who directs the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group minces no words when it comes to the subject of juvenile incarceration. WNYC 93.9 FM brings us his comments:

Putting young offenders in correctional facilities, he said, isn’t paying off.

‘It results in extraordinarily high recidivism rates, exposes youth to abuse and violence and does little, if anything, to enhance public safety,’ Lubow said.

Unfortunately there are times when the situation is even worse than that. In Texas Jordan Adams died after being strangled with a sheet at Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center. Another 14 year old was the one holding the sheet at the time.

Here’s some of the news coverage:

This shows another pernicious aspect of our incarceration based approach to juvenile justice. Evidence that has continued to mount pointing out the ineffectiveness of incarceration for quite some time, but examination reveals an array of failings of the most egregious sort.

Many readers will consider this boy’s death a tragic but isolated instance, and thankfully juvenile fatalities of this sort are not what you could call common. That is, of course, shallow solace.

It is not just death that faces incarcerated kids. The vile specter of rape is one faced by 30% of all youth inmates. All of them, both male and female.  The U.S. Department of Justice has provided some truly disturbing figures (as reported by AmplifyYourVoice) :

Rates of reported sexual victimization varied among youth:
– 10.8% of males and 4.7% of females reported sexual activity with facility staff.
– 9.1% of females and 2.0% of males reported unwanted sexual activity with other youth.
– Youth with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual reported significantly higher rates of sexual victimization by another youth (12.5%) compared to heterosexual youth (1.3%).
– Youth who had experienced any prior sexual assault were more than twice as likely to report sexual victimization in the current facility (24.1%), compared to those with no sexual assault history (10.1%).

The violence often found in these facilities, coupled with the frequently inadequate staffing and supervision, is part of the reason that institutions like these tend to produce repeat offenders. Criminal behavior is learned and reinforced in these facilities far more often than not.

When you consider the plight of chidren in these environments it is good to recall the words of  Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy and author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and BORN FOR LOVE: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered:

What we are as adults is the product of the world we experienced as children. The way a society functions is a reflection of the childrearing practices of that society. Today, we reap what we have sown.

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