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What We Can Learn from the Amazing Drop in Juvenile Incarceration

January 25, 2017

The number of youth held in adult prisons declined to fewer than 1,000, an 82% drop from the peak year in 1997.

In The Marshall ProjectMarc Mauer and Ashley Nellis highlight the 82 percent drop in the number of juveniles held in adult prisons from its peak year in 1997. The authors also discuss the changing public sentiment around sending young people to adult prisons, and why the juvenile experience can provide lessons in how to accelerate the reduction of adult incarceration.

As crime rates remain relatively low, this is a good moment to reflect on this experience and to pursue more constructive alternatives to jail time. We would start by restoring an individualized and rehabilitative approach to working with young adults. Knowing that most young people “age out” of crime by their mid- to late-20s, it is counterproductive to subject them to an often-brutal prison environment. Yes, there need to be consequences for criminal behavior, but these should involve finding the appropriate balance between public safety and helping offenders address the factors that contributed to their crimes.

And if such an approach makes sense for juveniles it also can be adapted for adults. The life history of individuals in prison shows that, more often than not, they committed their crimes after major setbacks — addiction, loss of jobs or housing — for which they received little support. There are few individuals in the prison system so dangerous that they can never be released back into the community. If we truly want to end mass incarceration we need to change the mindset about crime to one that emphasizes prevention and restoration over punishment.

Read the full article in The Marshall Project.

 
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