Youth Incarceration

The Youth First Initiative, a national advocacy campaign, is seeking to end incarceration of youth by closing youth prisons and investing in community-based alternatives. The Initiative believes that the system of incarcerating youth is so beyond repair that is does not need mere improvement but needs to be abolished and replaced. According to The Atlantic, 1.6 million children under the age of 18 were arrested in 2010, and half of those were taken into custody for “simple assault, drug-abuse violations, larceny-theft, and disorderly conduct.” Quite often these children are leaving families behind, particularly impressionable siblings “who just lost a little brother or big sister to prison”.

There are 54,000 juveniles in youth detention facilities nationwide, and over 250,000 youth total are taken from their homes to be tried or sentenced each year. Studies show a strong relation between older sibling incarceration and younger siblings offending. According to the Youth First Initiative, the effect on those left behind is largely ignored in our current system of youth incarceration. Among a plethora of negative effects on families and communities, locking up our nation’s children quite often saddles them with lasting legal financial obligations (LFOs) that are major impediments to stability and a normal life upon release. Juvenile justice, by common sense and theory, is supposed to be rehabilitative, yet has become increasingly punitive over the past many decades. Youth incarceration thus quite often worsens the outlook for our nation’s children and communities rather than increasing safety. Whether or not one might agree with the Youth First Initiative’s approach, it is rather clear that dramatic change is needed when it comes to the way we treat children who break the law.

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