The Dangers of Juvenile Incarceration

While our nation’s youth crime rates have declined considerably in the last 20 years, the US continues to put more children and teenagers in juvenile detention centers than any other developed country. Our juvenile incarceration rate is seven times higher than Britain’s, and 18 times higher than France’s rate. Each year, we spend millions of taxpayer dollars keeping children and teens behind bars.

While these numbers are frightening on their own, it’s even more frightening to consider the effects of incarceration in a juvenile detention center on youths. 

Researchers have found that spending time in a juvenile detention centers can have a number of long-term negative consequences for young detainees.Click To Tweet

Failure to return or graduate from school. After spending time in a juvenile detention center, many young people find it difficult to return to school. The time they spend in juvenile detention interrupts their education, the combination of time away from learning and incarceration making it difficult to resume normal schooling.  According to a study from the Justice Police Institute, an alarmingly high number of incarcerated youth do not return to school at all, and many of the ones that do drop out within five months.

Difficulty finding work. Since education has such a big impact on future job opportunities, many youths find it difficult to find jobs after spending time in juvenile detention centers. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “having been in jail is the single most important deterrent to employment.”  Incarceration and lack of education keeps youth from developing in the way that their non-incarcerated peers are able to, often keeping them from being able to become stable and competent employees.

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Increased likelihood of recidivism. Perhaps the most important negative effect of juvenile incarceration is the increased potential for recidivism, or repeat offending. Prisons are supposed to deter crime, but spending time in juvenile detention makes youths much more likely to offend in the future. Studies have found that youths who are incarcerated are nearly 70 percent more likely to offend by the age of 25 than young offenders who don’t go to juvenile detention. Incarcerated youths are more likely to commit violent crimes, drug crimes, and homicides than young offenders who weren’t incarcerated.

Negative environment. One of the big reasons behind the likelihood of recidivism for incarcerated youths is exposure to fellow delinquents. In juvenile detention centers, troubled youths are grouped together with other trouble youths, which can worsen behavioral issues. By exposing young offenders to the influence of other misbehaving peers, detention centers make incarcerated kids more likely to misbehave, commit crimes, and get arrested in the future.

Violence and sexual abuse. In juvenile correction facilities, many confined kids and teens fall victim to violence, sexual abuse, and other forms of mistreatment. Despite reformers efforts, there are many documented incidents of systematic violence, abuse, and excessive restraint in juvenile detention institutions. Youths may suffer abuse from their fellow inmates, as well as correction center staff.

Mental health concerns. Many detention facilities are not equipped to provide the mental and behavior care many incarcerated youth need, and the overcrowded and disorientating environment can often worsen existing conditions. A Northwestern study found that incarcerated juveniles are more likely to suffer mental health problems in the future. Substance abuse disorder in formerly incarcerated youth is a particularly prevalent problem.

Common Types of Juvenile Crimes

Given the severity of the negative impact of incarceration on youth, it’s especially troubling that youths are often sent to juvenile detention centers for relatively minor charges. Some of the most common offenses that could land you in a juvenile detention center are:

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Theft. This can include shoplifting, bicycle theft, or stealing from school.

Vandalism. Common cases include defacing property with graffiti, keying cars, slashing tires, or drawing on the walls of public restrooms.

Disorderly conduct. This could include fighting in public, swearing at a teacher, or acts of indecent exposure—such as flashing or streaking.

Marijuana possessionYou can be convicted as a youth for being found in possession of a small amount of marijuana, or smoking in a public place.

Don’t Let a Juvenile Offence Ruin Your Future

Spending time behind bars can be a traumatic experience at any age, but it’s particularly destructive for young offenders. If you or your child has been arrested for a juvenile crime—however small—it’s important to seek legal representation immediately. Even a seemingly minor crime can land you in a juvenile correction facility, which in turn can have some incredibly destructive long-term effects. An experienced juvenile crimes defense lawyer can help you understand your options, prepare your case, and defend you in court, working to protect your freedoms and ensure the best possible outcome for you and your child.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.