PHILADELPHIA – The number of young people in juvenile detention in Pennsylvania has been going down, but a new report says youth prisons nationwide have failed and should be closed entirely.
The report, titled “The Future of Youth Justice,” said juvenile prisons do more harm than good for incarcerated youth and their communities. According to Jennifer Feireman, associate director of the Juvenile Justice Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been reducing the numbers of children in detention.
“The state has really been thinking a lot about individualized responses to young people, has been looking at detention reform and reducing racial disparities,” Feireman said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
In Pennsylvania, the number of young people in juvenile detention declined by almost 36 percent between 2006 and 2013.
Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and co-author of the report, said that the practice of incarcerating young people in institutions has been an abject failure, both for the youths and the community.
“The recidivism rates for these institutions range from 70 to 80 percent,” McCarthy said, “so they’re not performing their basic community safety function in any way, shape or form.”
He said keeping troubled youth at home with guidance, access to education and good community support can help get them back on track.
Feierman added that, in juvenile-detention facilities, young people are exposed to solitary confinement, restraints and strip searches.
“Typically, that has made things worse and not better,” she said. “So definitely thinking about home-based services for young people makes a lot more sense.”
And according to the report, closing expensive juvenile prisons would free up funds to invest in community-based alternatives that actually work.