Youth Being Sent To Adult Prisons Literature Review

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Adult, Adulthood, Teenagers, Youth, Juvenile, Law, Supreme Court, Prison

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/07


It has been the practice within many societies to punish juvenile offenders differently from the adult perpetrators of the law. Even states established correctional units for persons aged below eighteen or formed separate youth units within the adult prisons. By the end of the twentieth century, however, there was a notable reverse of this policy as more states changed their stand. In the early 1990s, forty-five states of America had passed legislations allowing for the persecution of persons under the age of eighteen within the adult correction units.
The reasons that led to such a drastic change of position and the degree of enforcement of the new laws have been examined in this review. Studies by both governmental and private parties are presented. Research is based majorly on online stakeholders that illuminate the juvenile justice practices across the states. Additionally, the impact that sending of juveniles to adult prisons have on the lives of the victims and the society at large are also identified.
Although it was required for juveniles to be removed from adult justice systems, the number of children held in adult rehabilitation facilities increased drastically in the early 1990s. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice report, about ten thousand youth were held in adult prisons every night across the United States (Ryan & Arya, n.d). Most of these youth were then held for long periods without even being convicted. This is in agreement with U.S Department of Justice (2000) which reports that 14,500 juveniles were persecuted in adult facilities on a daily basis at that time.
According to statistics provided by Snyder, juvenile arrests rose drastically between 1988 to a peak in 1994 before they began to decline (Smith, 2015). It is this increase in crime which pushed the policy makers to make adjustments in the rehabilitation systems. Feeling that the existing measures were not adequate to contain youthful offenders, most states unanimously decided to start sending youth to adult correction centers.
Statutory laws were changed allowing for the persecution of young offenders within adult prisons. The changes in policies, however, did not come without raising issues which needed to be addressed. It was crucial to identify a minimum age under which juveniles could not be sent to adult prison. Secondly, laws to determine when a juvenile case could be transferred to adult courts were also enacted (JGPPS, 2015).
According to data from the Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy Practice & Statistics there is no specific minimum age which can inform the decision of transferring a juvenile case to an adult court (JGPPS, 2015). Trends in 22 states, however, indicate that most of the transferred juvenile delinquencies were above 14 years. Although not formalized, most of the states use the age of fourteen as the minimum age to be tried in adult courts. Children under this age have, however, been treated as adults depending on the form of crime committed. Capital and felony offenses as defined by different states, together with murder, have always been tried in adult courts(JGPPS, 2015).
As a result of sending youth to adult prisons, juvenile offenses reduced notably in the following years. A report conducted by the National Center for Juvenile Justice shows that by mid-2000s the number of murders committed by persons aged below 18 had declined remarkably (Smith, 2015). Consequently, fewer children were being locked up with most of them ending up in residential placements. Despite the reduced crime rates, the number of transfers from juvenile to adult courts remains higher than in the mid-1990s when states had not enacted such laws.
A number of factors could be attributed to the decline in the number of young delinquents. For instance, the practice of holding children in adult prisons could have brought fear to the children. Additionally, there has been much attention on children behavior compared to the past, which could have brought about the positive change. The states have as well sought alternatives to juvenile incarceration due to the increased cost of holding persons in correctional units.
The puzzle then has been whether the adult facilities were in a position to handle juvenile offenders. The practice in most prisons is to isolate youth from adults often locking them in artificially lit cells which exuberates the problem. Isolation has been found to cause depression, anxiety and paranoia. Isolating youth reportedly increases the risk of committing suicide by approximately thirty-six percent (Myers, 2005).
A number of adult correctional facilities are designed to hold delinquent youth and have separate units for the two groups. For instance, the Arizona State Prison Complex is a super maximum-security facility with a capacity of handling twenty youthful offenders in addition to the adults (U.S Department of Justice, 2000). A child can end up in this facility depending on the nature of the crime committed or their escape history. Programs are put in place to ensure maximum isolation between the adults and youth. Dedicated rehabilitation programs also exist in these jails in order to eliminate potential effects of child detention.
Children in adult centers still enjoy basic rights like that of education and receive vocational training (Hess et al., 2012). To help rehabilitate them, children are provided with short booklets and undergo tests to monitor their progress. Elsewhere in Canada, anger management programs are mandatory to all residents to help identify feelings of anger, their causes and caging them. Other correctional institutions offer the unit residents essays on selected topics and each person reports back what they have read by writing an essay (Hess et al., 2012).
Despite the efforts in place to minimize the effect of sending children to adult correctional units, children have still been affected by these practices. There is a scarcity of data though, as vital assaults within the prisons are often masked with lighter terms. The prison authorities are also reported to conceal the occurrences as they would be liable if such information leaked. That notwithstanding, most facility managers have reported that young convicts are harder to manage than their adult counterparts. These youth mostly become rebellious to the authorities.
Reports from sheriffs, legal professionals, and district attorneys also show that youth from adult rehabilitation centers become more troublesome once released. They argue that locking up minors with adults influences them to become robbers, murderers, and rapists. Additionally, young offenders face harsh harassment including sexual abuse both from fellow prisoners and facility managers (Myers, 2005). Research has also showed that youth held in adult facilities are more likely to commit suicide than those held in juvenile facilities. For instance, Ziedenberg and Schiraldi report of four youth in Kentucky who committed suicide after being convicted in adult facilities for minor offenses (Ziedenberg & Schiraldi,1998).


Hess, K., Orthmann, C., & WrightJ. (2012) Juvenile Justice, Boston: Cengage Learning.
Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy Practice & Statistics, (2015) Jurisdictional boundaries, Retrieved from
Myers, D., (2005) Boys Among Men: Trying and Sentencing Juveniles as Adults, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Ryan, L., & Arya N. (n.d), Key Facts: Children in Adult Jails & Prisons, Campaign for Youth Justice.
Smith M., (2015, February 26) NCJJ Report Shows Juvenile Crime Keeps Falling, But Reasons Elusive, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Retrieved from
U.S Department of Justice, (2000), Juveniles in Adult Prisons and Jails: a National Assessment. NCJ 182503
Ziedenberg, J., & Schiraldi, V. (1998), Risks Juveniles Face When Incarcerated with Adults. Reclaiming Children and Youth 7(2), 83-86.

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