Maltreatment of Incarcerated Youth Still a Problem, Report Finds

Despite increased scrutiny of the abusive conditions in state-funded juvenile corrections institutions, incarcerated youth continue to be subjected to systemic maltreatment, a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

The report, Maltreatment of Youth in U.S. Juvenile Corrections Facilities (40 pages, PDF), found evidence of widespread physical abuse and excessive use of force by facility staff, an epidemic of sexual abuse, unchecked youth-on-youth violence, frequent violence against staff, and an overreliance on isolation and restraints. A follow-up to the foundation's 2011 report No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration (51 pages, PDF), which found that the confinement-based model of juvenile justice resulted in high rates of abuse and recidivism, the new study documents systemic maltreatment since 2000 in juvenile corrections institutions in twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, up from twenty-two states in the earlier report. The report also details the most recent evidence of the incidence of sexual abuse in juvenile facilities and documents a growing consensus that solitary confinement is dangerous, counterproductive, and unsuited for juveniles.

The revelations of continued maltreatment "should remove any remaining doubt that large conventional juvenile corrections facilities — or plainly stated, youth prisons — are inherently prone to abuse," the report concludes. "Given public officials' inability to prevent maltreatment, or even to clean up youth prisons where inhumane conditions are revealed, it seems difficult to argue that confinement in these institutions offers a safe approach for rehabilitating delinquent youth."

In a TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue talk last week, Casey Foundation CEO Patrick McCarthy said states could produce better outcomes for young people who get into trouble with the law if they commit to three things: reduce by half the number of youth entering juvenile systems; improve existing systems by expanding community-based and family-centered programs proven to help kids who have the most serious problems; and eliminate all publicly operated and contracted youth prisons and instead use small, treatment-intensive secure-care programs.

McCarthy pledged the foundation's support to any state willing to join its commitment to close large secure juvenile facilities that resemble adult corrections facilities. "I believe it's long past time to close these inhumane, ineffective, wasteful factories of failure once and for all. Every one of them," he said. "We need to admit that what we’re doing doesn't work and is making the problem worse while costing billions of dollars and ruining thousands of lives."

"Annie E. Casey Foundation CEO Calls for States to Close 'Youth Prisons'." Annie E. Casey Foundation Press Release 06/24/2015. "New Report Documents Continuing Rampant Maltreatment of Incarcerated Youth." Annie E. Casey Foundation Press Release 06/24/2015.