cfyj donate   twitter   facebook   podcast   amazon smile    instagramlogo

Research & Policy

Youth in Adult System at Highest Risk of Early Death

Nils Franco, CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 17 November 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Written by Nils Franco, CFYJ Intern

Mortality rates at each stage of the juvenile justice system compared with transferred youth and the general population
A new study calls for preventive approaches on youth crime after examining mortality rates for youth offenders. The study finds that long-term early mortality rates are highest among youth in the adult criminal justice system.

The article, published Thursday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examines mortality under the scope of various socioeconomic factors and the severity of justice-system involvement – for instance, whether the youth was tried as an adult or simply arrested.

The study is the largest-scale effort to examine the link between the severity of involvement and youth offender mortality rates. Across race and gender, youth at each higher level of involvement have a greater mortality rate in the time span studied.

To obtain these findings, the study’s authors tracked the records of almost 50,000 youth offenders (that is, people arrested under the age of 18) in Marion County, Indiana, over the course of more than a decade. Of the sample of youth offenders, 518 died during the study period. The most common causes of death for these deceased – homicide, suicide, and overdose – are indicative of troubles that haunt young offenders into adulthood.
 The causes of death among arrested, detained, incarcerated, or transferred youth.

The authors broke up their sample into four groups: youth who were only arrested, youth detained pre-trial but never incarcerated, youth incarcerated in the juvenile system, and youth transferred to the adult system. Overall, these young offenders’ mortality rates measured 48% higher than the rates of the general community over the study period.

With each increment in justice-system involvement, mortality rates increased: mortality rates for youth detained pre-trial measured 83% higher than arrested youth, incarcerated youth mortality measured 140% higher than arrested youth mortality, and transferred youth mortality rates measured 247% higher than the rates of arrested youth.

The study corroborates another disturbing trend in racial disparity: black youth represent 47% of Marion County’s youth arrests, though only 28% of the county is black. That disparity grows at each level of involvement, from 47% in arrests, to 52% in pre-trial detention, to 58% in juvenile prison, to 68% in transfers to the adult court. Notably, adult-system involvement represents the greatest jump in the gap between black youth and white youth.

The proportion of youth who are black in each stage of the juvenile justice system compared with the general population.

The limited data prevents the study’s authors from drawing conclusions about the role of the justice system’s treatment of youth in these outcomes, but the authors still call for more evidenced-based practices to lower crime and improve violence prevention services for youth in detention centers. Past studies have suggested a causative link between sentencing youth to adult prison and future criminal behavior.


NEW REPORT on the Impact of the 2012 Colorado Reforms and Recommendations

Sheryl Dublin, American University Law Student, CFYJ Intern Thursday, 12 November 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Witten by Sheryl Dublin, American University Law Student, CFYJ Intern

Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC) recently released Justice Redirected: The Impact of Reducing the Prosecution of Children as Adults in Colorado and the Continuing Need for Sentencing Reform. This report provides a look into the reality of Colorado’s criminal justice and juvenile justice systems since the State’s progressive juvenile and criminal reforms.  Data from April 2012 to April 2015 were collected and analyzed to determine the impacts. This special report is beyond just an update, but an elaborate capture of the progress the State has made. It also lists recommendations for the Legislature to consider in its continued commitment to youth.

Colorado’s criminal and juvenile laws, as they pertain to children, have gone through several changes throughout the last four decades.  Laws in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, expanded the number of children that could be prosecuted as adults. The age of children eligible to be tried as adults was also lowered. Most notably, in 1993, Colorado enacted a “direct-file” statute that made it substantially easier to try a child in adult court. The direct-file provision gave Colorado prosecutors the original and final authority in deciding under which jurisdiction to prosecute a child—the criminal justice system or the juvenile justice system. This prosecutorial discretion drastically increased the number of children incarcerated in adult prisons during 1994-2002 from three children to 265.

From 2008 to 2012, adamant advocacy by CJDC and other reformists prompted these statutory changes. Among the reforms, of which Colorado can proudly boast, include the removal of several crimes from direct-file eligibility; the ability of a child to request a case be returned to juvenile court; and the raise in age from 14 to 16 for direct-file eligibility. The new report details each of the relevant reforms that changed the State’s juvenile code in 2012.

CJDC was determined to study the impact of those reforms thus far. And, in addition to these statistical findings, the report also discusses some supplemental findings. The data collected from April 2012 to April 2015 in Colorado reveal twelve key findings:

1.      Fewer children are detained in adult jails while awaiting trial. Pre-trial detention has dropped 99%.

2.      Fewer children are tried as adults. The number of children prosecuted in adult court dropped from 27 in 2012 to just six in April, 2015.

3.      The gender disparity is substantial. Boys make up 98% of the children that prosecutors direct-file in adult court.

4.      The average age of children direct-file prosecuted is 17.54. The youngest child to be prosecuted since 2012 was 13 when the alleged offense was committed and 14 at the time that charges were filed.

5.      Racial disparities have not improved. From 2012 to 2013, 30% of the children direct-filed were Black and 27% were Hispanic. This is up from 2004-2008, when 16% were Black and 18% were Hispanic. The demographic has roughly been 4.4% Black and 21.2% Hispanic. (The percentage for the Hispanic ethnicity is difficult to calculate because Hispanic children are often identified as “white” without the input of the child or the child’s family.)

6.      Only 16 of the 68 Colorado counties have prosecuted children. Though the 16 counties have roughly similar populations, Adams County, Douglas County, Denver County, and El Paso County accounted for 75% of these cases.

7.      Most of the cases tried in adult court were for serious offenses: homicide, robbery, assault or kidnapping. Many reformists urge that direct-file be reserved for the most egregious cases. Prior to reforms, only 12% of the cases were for homicide. In 2012, this serious offense made up 37% of all cases.

8.      Prosecutorial discretion leads to the criminal prosecution of children at a far greater rate than that of judicial discretion. Eighty-three percent of juvenile cases tried in adult court were direct-filed, whereas, only 17% were transferred by court order, or by “judicial-transfer”.

9.      Only 23 of the 79 children tried as adults actually went to a hearing before a judicial officer. This seems to counter the idea that direct-filing will lead to lengthy hearings.

10.  Most children enter plea deals. Children are faced with the possible imposition of sentences that had been originally contemplated for adults. Sixty-five perfect of cases resulted in plea deals from 2012 to 2015. Often children plea out to avoid the possibility of long and harsh criminal sanctions.

11.  Most children convicted as adults have been incarcerated in adult facilities. Some of these facilities include the Youthful Offender Service (YOS) which provides for Department of Corrections’ inmates that are ages 14 to 25. Only eight percent of direct-filed children were sentenced to serve time in adult facilities that do not include YOS.

12.  Those children sentenced to YOS were convicted on serious offenses. Out of the 41 cases in which juveniles were sentenced to YOS, 31 were convicted of a Class 2 or Class 3 felony, 18 convicted on homicide charges, and 10 were found guilty for robbery.

In sum, Colorado has seen some impressive changes over the past three years. The State’s policies are not perfect and are still in need of reform, but the results are very promising. As the 2012 report, “Re-Directing Justice: The Consequences of Prosecuting Children as Adults and the Need for Judicial Oversight,” was very successful in influencing change, CFYJ is confident that Colorado will consider the policy recommendations offered in the new report.

Some of these recommendations include raising the age of eligibility for judicial transfer from 12 to 14; creating a uniform sentencing statute for children convicted as adults; collecting complete data for future analysis; limiting the use of the information provided during transfer hearings in future proceedings; and evaluating the facts that are to be considered at these hearings. For more information on Colorado reforms, please visit our Colorado page here.

LOCKED OUT: Improving Educational and Vocational Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth

Thursday, 05 November 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

The Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report analyzing data collected from a nationwide survey of state juvenile correctional agencies. The following is the introduction to their report.

Policymakers across the political spectrum agree: all young people should have access to a high-quality public education. Within the past two decades, particular emphasis has been placed on ensuring that students receive instruction that prepares them for college and careers, and that schools are held accountable for realizing these goals.

There is perhaps no subset of young people whose need for a quality education is more acute—and whose situation makes them especially challenging to serve—than incarcerated youth. Of the more than 60,000 youth who are incarcerated on any given day in the United States, nearly 36,000 are committed to state custody,* two-thirds of whom are youth of color. The majority of these youth are over-age and under-credited,† several grade levels behind their peers, more likely to have a disability than their peers,2 and have been suspended multiple times and/or expelled from their local schools.3

In 1997, the majority of incarcerated youth were housed in state-run facilities; as of 2013, almost two-thirds of incarcerated youth were held in privately or locally run facilities. [See Figure 1] In most states, an array of state and local agencies and nonprofit and private organizations are responsible for overseeing and delivering educational and vocational services to incarcerated youth. As the proportion of youth incarcerated in privately or locally run facilities has grown, this has evolved into an increasingly complicated patchwork of government and nongovernment agencies. This shift means that any combination of state, local, nonprofit, and private entities now manage educational and vocational services for incarcerated youth. 


Read the full report here!

Implicit Bias Spurs Racial Sentencing Gap

Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A Bureau of Justice Statistics­­–sponsored working paper published on October 23rd provides new analysis of racial disparities in federal sentencing outcomes for adults between 2005 and 2012. The paper suggests that judicial discretion causes growing differences in sentences between black and white men.

The report finds that black men received sentences 5 to 10% longer than white men for the same crimes, even when accounting for factors like criminal history. The authors did not find a significant difference between the sentences of white and black women.

This eight-year period saw a trend of more lenient sentencing for the study’s population. However, more lenient sentencing only increased racial differences in sentencing, according to the report. Females and white men experienced a greater decline in sentence length than black men.

Insufficient data existed to determine if prosecutorial discretion was a significant cause of racial disparity to begin with, but racial differences at the prosecutorial stage held constant through the eight year period. Therefore, the authors determine judicial behavior to be responsible for the growing sentencing gap between white and black men.

Examining the influence of federal judges on that gap, the researchers find that individual judges’ behavior determine much of the sentencing disparity. Generally, judges who sentenced blacks to longer-than-average sentences also sentenced whites to longer-than-average sentences. Some judges sentenced blacks and whites almost equally, but the most punished black men significantly more harshly than white men. On the other end, some judges’ sentencing practices produced “especially large” racial differences.

This variation from one judge to the next cannot be accounted for by “unobserved, systematic differences between whites and blacks,” the authors find. In other words, the disparity is not solely caused by correlatives of race (e.g., education and demeanor).

Racial bias influences judicial sentencing decisions, and this influence appears to have grown between 2005 and 2012. To address this issue, the National Center for State Courts has published resources and strategies for judges to minimize and better understand race’s implicit role in sentencing outcomes.

The best way to handle counterproductive criminal justice mechanisms is to replace them altogether with evidence-based practices. But at times, this comprehensive reform is not possible, and incremental progress is necessary. In the case of adult prosecution of youth, incremental reform often promotes judicial discretion to send cases back to the juvenile court. Ensuring judges consider the potential role that race may play in their decisions is crucial to equitable reform outcomes for all youth.

An executive summary of the working paper from the Bureau of Justice Statistics can be accessed here.


Written by Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern

#YJAM: Different Race, Different Treatment

Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern, and Carmen Daugherty, CFYJ Policy Director Friday, 09 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

By Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern and Carmen Daugherty CFYJ Policy Director

Mental Health Needs and Treatment While in the System

We start with a new report finding that the transfer of youths to the adult system is responsible for some of these inequalities. The report was published in a September bulletin by the Department of Justice, and uses data from 1,715 youth from Cook County, Illinois, who were processed in both the adult and juvenile systems. Once committed to adult facilities, minority youth are less likely to receive treatment for mental health issues, harming youths’ ability to rehabilitate.


As with other stages of the justice system, the trial of youth as adults discriminately affected youth of color in the sample: 94% of youth in the adult system were youth of color, and more than two-thirds (68%) of the youth were African-American, according to the data. For comparison, African-Americans comprise just 26% of the general population of Cook County, Illinois. These unequal outcomes persist even when the authors controlled for the type of crime. 

The overall sample of delinquent youth, which included 1,440 in the juvenile system, was less disparate than the transferred youth:  83% were youth of color and 54% were African-American. This suggests the stage of transferring youth to the adult system contributes significantly to the already significant racial inequality in rates of youth incarcerated as adults. In other words, race seems to influence which youth are transferred to the adult system.


Past research found that minority youth are less likely to receive needed mental health treatment in juvenile facilities, but the DOJ report is the first to consider such treatment for youth in the adult system. The new research finds that factors like race that dispose youth to adult transfer are the same factors that dispose youth to missing out on much-needed mental health problems while incarcerated. The authors express concern that this failure to treat incarcerated youth, who have a “substantial need” for mental health services, may ignore underlying causes of disruptive and anti-social behavior. 

Moving forward, the authors propose several recommendations.

The report’s findings prompt three concerns that may be productive focal areas for future reforms and research. First, psychiatric and behavioral treatment is unavailable to many youth who need it, and best practices must be developed for youths in the adult system. Though treatment guidelines have been developed for both youth and adults in age-appropriate facilities, little is known about what works best for youth in adult facilities. Second, the report found staggeringly high rates of mental health issues in all system involved youth, and higher rates among youth than among adult offenders. Imprisonment as an adult brings life-long consequences, and this burden should not be borne by youth who are already struggling with treatable disorders; rather, the authors suggest that mental health be considered during sentencing, and clinicians be allowed to suggest alternative interventions to the court. 

Finally, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, especially for youth transferred to the adult system, causes the punishment to reflect the race of the youth instead of the nature of their crime. More research on racial inequality in juvenile justice, including youth transferred to the adult system, will be available in December with the publication of “Race and Ethnicity in the Juvenile Justice System,” a book from the Carolina Academic Press.

Scrutiny of racially disparate outcomes in every stage of the criminal justice system has grown in the past year, as pressure from protesters and the press mounted in response to publicized police violence. This week, YJAM focuses on racial and ethnic disparities that exist in every aspect of the criminal justice system. From the courtroom to the cell block, we will learn how racial biases and disparate treatment play out in the system.

Behind the report “The sexual abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story”

Friday, 09 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern

Thesexualabusetoprisonpipeline 1

Forced into child sex trafficking at the age 13, Kyeisha got pulled into the juvenile justice system while trying to escape her abusive home. Kyeisha, now an 18 year-old juvenile justice advocate, was one of the members of today’s discussion panel on the just-released report “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story”. This powerful document was published by the Georgetown Law Center for Poverty and Equality, in collaboration with the Human Rights Project for Girls and the Ms. Foundation for Women, and highlights how sexual abuse on girls is often a trigger leading them directly to jail. Indeed, the report reveals for example that 93% of Oregon and 81% of California girls in the juvenile justice system have been sexually or physically abused. Overall across the country, 39% of girls who get pulled into the juvenile justice system have been raped or sexually assaulted.

To raise awareness on these unbelievably true statistics, Congresswoman Karen Bass organized a panel discussion  on the report. Along with the document’s authors, the panel included several sexual abuse victims and juvenile justice survivors who courageously shared their stories. Among them, Charity Chandler-Cole, who is now working as an advocate for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, told the audience how, when she got arrested for the first time for stealing underwear because her mom could not afford to buy some for her and her siblings, the system actually deepened and worsened her trauma. Indeed after her arrest, Charity was sent to jail where she was sexually abused. In tears, she  explained to the audience that she somehow found the inner strength to keep fighting to show the world she was worth it, but that many girls in her situation cannot hang on to anything, and that we need to be here for these traumatized children, who are victims more than offenders.

The panel also emphasized the harder struggle young women of color are facing, especially African-American girls, who even though they only represent 14% of the total U.S youth population, make up 33% of the kids in the juvenile justice system.

“Girls are ultimately being criminalized because they are abused”, said Rebecca Epstein, member of the panel and report’s co-author. Indeed, many young girls are sent to jail every year for prostitution, while they were actually being sexually exploited. In fact, although it is illegal to have sex with a minor, by some kind of legal mechanism it is possible to charge a child, who is in reality a victim of sexual trafficking, with prostitution.

Unanimously, the report and the panel recommended and urged reauthorization of the JJDPA (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act) , strengthening of the PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act), and overall a more comprehensive and specific approach for young girls in the juvenile justice system. This involves implementing around them a solid structure of support which understands that these kids’ backgrounds and traumas are directly related to their actions and behaviors. It also implies that we stop sending them automatically to jail, especially those who commit status offenses (i.e. age-related offenses like underage drinking or skipping school), but instead understand the causes of these offenses and provide a safe environment for them, since their home is often not one.

#YJAM: What Science and Common Sense Tell Us About Kids and the Law

Abigail Baird - Juvenile Justice Advocate Monday, 05 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

YJAM FB brain 01 28129A few years ago, my best friend’s husband was laid off. We were upset. In fact, we were very upset and we were not sure how to best cope with the news. One of us had the amazing idea of relying on an old high school technique of payback known as “egging someone’s house”. We talked about the pros and cons of driving to the boss’s house and just pelting it with a couple dozen eggs. “It would feel so good” one of us said, “…and serve him right” we said; but someone brought up the possibility of being caught and possibly arrested. I remember thinking that it would be hard, and beyond embarrassing, to explain to my friends and colleagues that at 42 years old I had been arrested for vandalism because I egged someone’s house. We then successfully used our mature and experienced brains to talk ourselves out of taking any action and moved on to more reasonable ways to cope with the situation.

This story frequently comes to mind when thinking about the numerous reasons why trying children as adults in a court of law makes absolutely no sense. My story demonstrates a compelling, and quite striking, contradiction in the law: No matter how “juvenile” our crime might have been, the idea of transferring the case to juvenile court would be unheard of because we, at 42 years of age, are simply too old to be considered juveniles. This makes sense. We have more life experience and more developed brains, and it is simply not just to try 42 year olds in juvenile court no matter how ridiculous their behavior. Yet, it is common practice to try children as adults in a court of law. In most states, children who are charged with violent crimes are transferred to adult court. If we follow the very simple logic above, this is simply not just. There are no twelve year olds who have fully mature brains, or have the experiences that adults have.  It simply does not make sense.

I appreciate that as a neuroscientist I should probably try to bolster my argument by detailing the many well-established facts about the development of the human brain that have consistently shown clear and reliable differences between the structure and function of adolescent brains relative to adult brains. These facts have been heard, and endorsed by, the Supreme Court of this country in two separate recent rulings that prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders (Roper v. Simmons) and prevent juveniles from receiving mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole (Miller v. Alabama).

As breathtaking as I find neuroscience, it pales in comparison to common sense. On par with the ridiculousness of trying adults as juveniles would be the notion of having a jury made up of 12-16 year olds. I think we would be hard pressed to find someone who would endorse this as a reasonable idea. Why? Because we know that 12-16 year olds are not fully mature and as a result we legally prohibit them from serving on juries.

New Report: Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls

Anne-Lise Vray Wednesday, 30 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A young girl at Maryvale, an all-girls level-12 institution in Rosemead, California. Photo by Richard Ross.

 Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

The National Crittenton Foundation, in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center, just released a report entitled “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls”, which reveals how and why the girls’ experience of the American juvenile justice system is very different from the boys’. The issue has come under the spotlight as girls are increasingly entering this system but continue to lack appropriate care and support. Indeed, despite an overall decline in the arrests of youth, girls’ share of arrests has increased by 45% over the last two decades. Meanwhile, girls’ share of detentions increased by 40%. These alarming numbers are products of the incomprehensive and inadequate policies girls who get pulled into the juvenile justice system have been subjected to. Indeed, a large majority of these kids have a background of deprivation, abuse and violence, traumatic experiences that are directly related to their behaviors, which in most cases don’t pose any threat to public safety. Thus, among the girls arrested nationwide, there is a disproportionate number of them whose offenses are connected to poverty, abusive homes or poor relationships, such as “prostitution” (which is increasingly recognized as being sexual exploitation of minors), liquor law violation or curfew violation. Furthermore, the report highlights that these very young women are still consistently sent behind bars for status offenses, misdemeanors or other minor offenses that don’t represent any danger for the public.

Among these vulnerable girls, some groups are even more exposed. Young ladies of color and girls from the LBQ/GNCT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Questioning/Gender Non-Conforming or Transgender) community are indeed at a greater risk than their white/straight or gender-conforming peers to enter the juvenile justice system and to be discriminated against throughout the whole judicial process. 

The report reminds us of “Jane Doe”’s case, an “example of the way juvenile justice systems too often prioritizes control over treatment, disregarding the clear need for a developmental approach.” In 2014, a 16 year-old transgender girl of color who had been sexually abused/trafficked her whole life was sent to an adult women prison at the request of the Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, before eventually ending up in isolation in a secure facility for boys. This story illustrates the way the needs of youth, especially of girls, are too often ignored by the juvenile justice system, from the police to the facilities’ staff. Yet, the report underlines the benefits a more comprehensive, developmental approach would have, and gives the 9 following recommendations for a reform of the system:

-        -  Stop criminalizing behavior caused by damaging environments that are out of girls’ control

-        -  Engage girls’ families throughout the juvenile justice process

-        -  Use pre-petition diversion to provide “off-ramps” from the formal justice system for girls living in traumatic social contexts

-        -  Don’t securely detain girls for offenses and technical violation that pose no public safety threat and are environmentally-driven

-         - Attorneys, judges and probation officers should use trauma-informed approaches to improve court culture for girls

-         - Adopt a strengths-based, objective approach to girls probation services

-         - Use health dollars to fund evidence-based practices and programs for girls, and address health needs related to their trauma

-         - Limit secure confinement of girls, which is costly, leads to poor outcomes, and re-traumatizes vulnerable girls

-         - Support emerging adulthood for young women with justice system histories

The Hidden Costs of Incarceration in the Adult System

Nils Franco Tuesday, 29 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Collateral consequences borne by community, family members, according to new report

By Nils Franco, CFYJ Intern

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights this month published “Who Pays,” a report investigating the adult criminal justice system’s long-term effects on inmates, families, and society. The Center surveyed more than 700 former inmates and 300 family members in 14 states. This effort produces reliable data on the economic, social, and health-related burdens communities bear from incarceration, which bring “increased poverty, destabilized neighborhoods, and generations of trauma,” according to the report.

The findings demonstrate that adult sentences cost more than just the lost years of one individual’s incarceration. The costs of even a minor offense can add up in thousands of dollars of debt, mental health issues, and the specter of a permanent record. While the report surveys the general population of the adult prison system, many of its findings apply especially severely to juveniles.

The burden of judicial punishment, the report finds, is not carried by the offenders alone: their families lose a source of income, their families must find a way to pay off legal fees, and their families must pay to stay in contact with their incarcerated loved one. No family or individual is an island, however, and the economic setbacks can spread to the entire community.

Most tangible among the collateral consequences are the economic costs, which pile up measurably at every stage of the system. Over half of respondents said they could not afford conviction-related fees, which average $13,607 per inmate. While imprisoned, inmates’ basic needs must be paid for by family, at absurd costs. Under these financial pressures, one in five families faces eviction during a loved one’s incarceration because of housing unaffordability, and almost two in three struggle to afford other necessities. Economic strains continue after incarceration because of the stigma attached to a criminal record. 76 percent of former inmates found it “very difficult or nearly impossible” to get a job after prison, and less than half worked fulltime five years after release. Unpaid debts incurred during adult incarceration compound the effects of employment constraints, and 12 percent of former inmates are put back into prison for missing conviction-related debt payments.

Meanwhile, government aid that could lift men and women back onto their feet during re-entry is denied even to minor offenders. Past drug offenders are ineligible in most states for federal welfare programs, and local housing authorities can deny public housing to individuals with a record. One in 10 family members polled lost their public housing after a loved one with a record returned home. Unpaid criminal justice debts can also result in the denial of student loans, disability benefits, and Social Security.

Lasting incarceration-related health effects in adults detailed in the report are even more severe for youth, who are less emotionally developed and more likely to be victimized by adult prisoners. 66 percent of the general population of former inmates said their or their family’s health suffered from incarceration’s effects. Many reported pre-existing chronic health problems worsening, while high healthcare costs block inmates from getting needed treatment. Mental health in particular suffers from experiences related to incarceration, and PTSD and depression are linked to and exacerbated by those experiences.

With robust new data, the Center’s report powerfully underscores the ripple effects of incarceration. By locking up a young offender for even a few years, we destroy not just his or her economic and social opportunity, but in fact harm entire families and communities. Developmentally, childhood is a ripe moment for growth through opportunities, health, and second chances. The adult criminal justice system impairs all of these, and at high societal costs. Stripping juveniles of their lifetime earning potential and saddling their families with debt are undesirable outcomes of a criminal justice system. The Ella Baker Center report provides crucial insight into the collateral consequences of prison life, and understanding these post-incarceration stressors helps to explain why juveniles tried as adults have higher recidivism rates than juveniles tried in the appropriate system.

An executive summary of the report can be found here.

Written by Nils Franco, a policy and law intern with the Campaign for Youth Justice. Nils studies economics and public policy at American University.

Pathways to Desistance Study: Longer Sentences for High-Risk Youth Do Not Increase Deterrence

By: Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow Monday, 24 August 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

By: Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow

In 2003, a longitudinal study, Pathways to Desistance, saw data collected for 7 jailpicyears on 1300 serious adolescent offenders from Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and Maricopa County, Arizona. From this data, numerous criminology experts recently analyzed the data in an effort to learn more about deterrence – punishment as a threat to deter individuals from offending –   in high-risk adolescents.

This study contained multiple findings that have important juvenile justice implications. Most prominently, this study found that more severe punishments, such as correctional placement or longer lengths of placement, do not reduce arrests or offending in high-risk youth. In other words, severity of punishment has, as this study finds, no influence on deterring high-risk youth from later committing more crimes. Additionally, in a matched-pairs comparison of offenders (which controls for a variety of factors), this study found that when comparing those in placement to those given probation, there was not a deterrent effect.

Furthermore, the study found that many of the influences of punishment on risk-involved decision making are very individualized processes. Essentially, there is no formula or one set of policies that can prove to be most effective in deterring crime for large groups of individuals. As the writers of the study state, “This process does not operate in the same way for all offenders—policies that assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach will fail for some offenders.”

In a country where children are often given unnecessarily severe forms of punishment, including being tried and incarcerated as adults, this study makes it clear that increasingly punitive measures do not lead to increasingly decreased crime and recidivism. Accordingly, the authors of this study, “Advocate for shifting resources from prisons to areas that are related to offenders’ perceptions of risk.”

From this study it is clear that, more often than not, increasingly severe punishment for adolescents does not reduce crime. Therefore, it is no better for society – especially considering the astronomical costs of incarceration – to unnecessarily lock up our nation’s youth to, “Teach them a lesson.” Instead, we need to reform our juvenile justice system to take a more a rehabilitative approach to our nation’s youth. In doing so, we will not only save countless resources, but also countless lives.

<<  1 2 [34 5 6 7  >>