The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model

New Thinking in Community Corrections

October 21, 2016
Authors: Patrick McCarthy, Vincent Schiraldi, and Miriam Shark

The Executive Session on Community Corrections released the second paper in the New Thinking in Community Corrections seriesentitled The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model.

  •  “Youth in trouble need guidance, education, and support, not incarceration in harmful and ineffective youth prisons. We now know from research and on-the-ground experience that youth prisons are not designed to best promote youth rehabilitation. This report offers concrete alternatives for policy makers across the country to maintain public safety, hold young people accountable, and turn their lives around.” – Vincent Schiraldi, PCJ Senior Research Fellow

In this new report co-authored by Patrick McCarthy, Executive Session member Vincent Schiraldi, and Miriam Shark, the authors note that the youth prison model is fraught with high costs, poor outcomes, and endemic abuse, and has historically been resistant to reform. Further, the negative impacts of being incarcerated in youth prisons are not evenly distributed, but rather show unwarranted disparities for youth of color.

The authors find that use of youth prisons has been driven by policy choices, leaving room for policy makers to choose otherwise. They recommend a four-pronged strategy for eliminating the use of youth prisons, in favor of more rehabilitative and developmentally-appropriate options: reduce, reform, replace, and reinvest. Meaning, (1) reduce the number of youth committed to out-of-home placement, (2) reform programs, practices, and culture to focus on achieving positive outcomes for youth, (3) replace youth prisons with small, home-like facilities for the small number of youth for whom secure placement is necessary, and (4) reinvest savings to expand options for youth in their communities.

  • “Juvenile justice systems must have the clear purpose of giving each youth the tools he or she needs to get on the right path to a successful adulthood and to reintegrate into the community. By closing traditional youth prisons and leveraging increased political will to reform our country’s dependence on incarceration, states can use the savings to begin implementing a new, more effective approach to serving young people.” – Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO, the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Patrick McCarthy is president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Vincent Schiraldi is Senior Research Fellow directing the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School; and Miriam Shark is an independent consultant and a former associate director at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Executive Session on Community Corrections is a project of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), the Malcolm Wiener Center, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.

Headshots of the authors.

“This report makes an air tight case against youth prisons. It shows how they are ineffective, harmful and ultimately flawed. Policymakers have the proof they need to dismantle the youth prison model and chart a new course for youth justice.” –Liz Ryan, President and CEO, Youth First

Screenshot of report cover.