To: Members of Congress and State Governors
The United States, on any given day, incarcerates nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 in jails and prisons, incarcerating more young people than any other country. Even worse is that approximately 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults, and around 10,000 juveniles are housed in adult jails and prisons – 7,500 in jails and 2,700 in prisons, respectively. Most kids held in adult jails are awaiting trial, though as many as half of them will not be convicted or will be sent back to the juvenile justice system. Many will have spent at least one month in the adult jail, and one in five of them will have spent over six months there. These kids are often locked up before they are even tried, incarcerated for minor offenses such as truancy, running away, violating curfew, or being otherwise “ungovernable. Many of these kids could be released today without great risk to public safety and due to the serious, harmful effects of incarceration on a person’s mental and physical health, their economic and social prospects, their relationships, and on the people around them, there is growing consensus that youth confinement is ineffective in comparison to community based programs that provide supports, services and opportunities for youth.
The practice of incarcerating kids is archaic, ineffective and not cost effective. Still most states spend a significant portion of their Juvenile Justice funding on youth prisons, with an estimated annual cost of over 5 billion a year.
There are alternative, and studies show that when young people involved in the juvenile justice system avoid incarceration and engage in alternatives [including but not limited to home confinement, treatment, therapy, and youth centric intensive supervision programs], the rate of conviction and rearrest is dramatically reduced.
Prison is no place for a kid. Children deserve a future free of criminalization, a future that supports their development and capacity to contribute meaningfully to society.
We need you to END the practice of putting kids in prison and invest in community based supports, services, and opportunities for youth.