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Youth Prisons Don't Work, Report Says

Sending young people to prison doesn't work, according to research that suggests an entirely new system is needed. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
Sending young people to prison doesn't work, according to research that suggests an entirely new system is needed. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
October 26, 2016

HELENA, Mont. – A new report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation pulls together evidence of the ineffectiveness of youth correctional facilities, showing they are expensive and prone to abuse, and concluding they fail at reform. And it recommends closing all youth prisons and reinvesting in other types of programs.

Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy says the basic function of any juvenile intervention program should be to reduce the odds a young person will follow a life of crime, and put them on a path toward success.

"And in that basic measure, these institutions fail miserably," states McCarthy. "The recidivism rates for these institutions range from 70 to 80 percent, so they're not performing their basic community safety function in any way, shape or form."

The Montana Department of Corrections operates two juvenile facilities, Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility in Custer County, and the Riverside Youth Correctional Facility for girls in Boulder, Mont.

According to the report, systemic maltreatment has been documented in youth prison facilities in nearly half the states since 2000. McCarthy charges that it's the result of a model focused on security and control, rather than providing appropriate developmental needs of young people.

As he put it, "They are staffed by corrections officers and in some facilities, things like mace have been used, long extended isolation, shackles, handcuffs - very brutal methods of controlling a young population."

Instead of what he calls an outmoded assumption that locking kids up improves safety, McCarthy says the corrections culture should focus on rehabilitating them.

"We've got to build a juvenile justice system that's based on the very simple principle of developing young people's capacity, giving them opportunity," he says. "Holding them accountable, of course, is also very important – but doing it in a way that provides them a path to get back on track."

The full report is online at aecf.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT