Sending Washington teenage offenders to juvenile detention facilities is a long standing practice, but not necessarily an effective one. Data and research indicate that youth prisons actually have the opposite of the intended effect. Here is why some advocacy groups, prosecutors and corrections officials are calling for juvenile facilities to be shut down.
In a joint effort with more than 30 prosecutors and 42 corrections and probation leaders from all over the country, the Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice and the nonprofit organization Fair and Just Prosecution released a statement detailing their position. Rather than sending minors to youth prisons, they advocate utilizing various supports and services for young people in the justice system. The statement also suggests that minors who cannot stay with their families be placed in small, rehabilitative facilities.
The statement pointed out a 2010 study that determined that most juvenile offenders have suffered serious trauma, and the current use of youth prisons only further traumatizes them. So rather than offer support and rehabilitation to be able to pursue a positive and productive future, minors are more likely to reoffend and remain tangled up in the legal system. Additional research shows that young people engage in potentially harmful behaviors and make bad choices because they simply have not yet developed the same capacity for impulse control as most adults.
One or two bad decisions should not define the rest of a teenager’s life. Unfortunately, many youthful offenders in Washington are shuffled through the legal system without much consideration for their age, mental health and past trauma. Evidence shows that youth prisons only exacerbate any of those existing issues, so parents who are guiding their children through this difficult process may want to consider whether seeking experienced counsel could be beneficial.