A Criminal Factory

Jun 17 2013 @ 3:21pm

Brad Plumer spots new research suggesting that juvenile detention is counterproductive:

[T]o figure this out, Aizer and Doyle took a look at the juvenile court system in Chicago, Illinois. The researchers found that certain judges in the system were more likely to recommend detention than others — even for similar crimes. That is, it’s possible to identify stricter and more lenient judges. And, since youths were assigned to judges at random, this created a randomized trial of sorts.

What the researchers found was striking.

The kids who ended up incarcerated were 13 percentage points less likely to graduate high school and 22 percentage points more likely to end up back in prison as adults than the kids who went to court but were placed under, say, home monitoring instead. (This was after controlling for family background and so forth.) Juvenile detention appeared to be creating criminals, not stopping them.

The authors lay out a couple of reasons why this would be. Going to prison can obviously disrupt school and make it harder to get a job later on. But also, as other researchers have found, many people who end up behind bars end up making friends with other offenders and building “criminal capital.” Prison turns out to be excellent training for a life of crime.

Another troubling new report looks at sexual abuse in the country’s juvenile detention facilities:

Hundreds of teenagers are raped or sexually assaulted during their stays in the country’s juvenile detention facilities, and many of them are victimized repeatedly, according to a U.S. Department of Justice survey. The teens are most often assaulted by staff members working at the facilities, and fully 20 percent of those victimized by the men and women charged with protecting and counseling them said they had been violated on more than 10 occasions. …

The Justice Department survey—covering both secure juvenile detention facilities and group homes, the less restrictive settings into which troubled youngsters are often ordered—involved more than 8,500 boys and girls. In all, 1,720 of those surveyed reported being sexually assaulted. Allen Beck, the author of the report, said that the rates of staff-on-inmate abuse among juveniles are “about three times higher than what we find in the adult arena.”