According to the Sentencing Project, the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in prison or jail. Prison overcrowding is a significant problem, and results in youth being assigned to adult prisons and jails to serve their sentences. North Carolina, Connecticut and New York are just some states that are addressing this issue.
Holding youth to adult criminal standards raises significant concerns. First, many young criminals do not understand or know how to exercise their rights in court and in prison. Many juveniles are not capable of defending themselves in a trial and do not understand the law or the consequences of their crimes.
After arrest, many youth are detained or have to wait in juvenile or adult court for their trial, depending on how they are charged. Adult detention facilities temporarily accommodate youth who are likely to commit another crime before their trial, but unfortunately, many of the youth held in the detention centers across the country do not meet this criterion, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice. When they are held in detention centers for unnecessary periods of time, they are separated from their community, which makes it harder for them to adapt to society when released.
Juveniles detained in adult facilities have little or no access to resources-education, health treatment and sanitary facilities. Juveniles also have an extremely high risk for assault and abuse. The campaign explains that more than one in 10 youth have reported experiences of sexual victimization. The campaign also explains that youth housed in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile detention facilities. Deaths from young criminal homicides were estimated to cost $9 billion in lost productivity and medical costs in 2010.
We The Threefold Advocate believe that state governments are responsible for the well-being of their people and should pursue alternatives to juvenile imprisonment. Examples of alternatives are community-based programs, drug treatment, treatment clinics and family programs that are proven to be less costly than detention or incarceration, according to the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiation.
Experiences in states like Connecticut have demonstrated that juvenile crime rates overall can be lowered through evidence-based interventions that help nonviolent young offenders with other solutions other than imprisonment. Rather than immediately imprisoning youth, their system sends them to pretrial detention centers where they are not treated as adults and rather teach them and correct them. The state has expanded its investment in family-focused adolescent treatment programs. They have improved their juvenile facilities and offer a community-based treatment to youth and their families rather than probation supervision.
We The Threefold Advocate believe it is important to recognize the danger faced by juveniles in the adult prison system. We advocate for educating juveniles about their faults rather than incarcerating them and treating them as adults. We believe that all states should address this issue in order to protect our youth, because they are our future.