Chapter 12 Prisons or “Correctional” Institutions: What’s in a Name?


·         First, let’s be honest: when you cannot leave you are “imprisoned” – ergo, kids are in prison not “correctional” institutions

·         Any “treatment” that occurs is mostly incidental to the overall goal of custody and control, despite pronouncements to the contrary by officials

·         Ever since the Houses of Refuge officials have tried to hide what goes on behind these walls, which is typically abuse disguised as treatment

·         These prisons house most of the kids who are placed out of their home and consumes the bulk of the money spent on juvenile justice

Types of Commitments

·         Indeterminate only

·         Indeterminate with a minimum sentence

·         Indeterminate up to a maximum.

·         Indeterminate with minimums and maximums

·         Determinate and indeterminate

·         Determinate only

Types of Institutions

·         Short Term Facilities

·         Adult jails

·         Detention centers

·         Shelter care facilities

·         Long-Term Facilities

·         Reception and diagnostic centers

·         Ranches and forestry camps

·         Boot camps

·         Prisons – aka “youth correctional centers,” “reform schools” and “training schools

Adult Jails

·         Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDAP) – 1974 (rev. 2002)

o    Prohibits states receiving federal funds from detaining juveniles for more than six hours (24 hours in rural areas) in facilities that hold adults (Figure 12-1)

o    Many states not in compliance and more than 7500 kids are in adult jails

Detention centers

·         Some negative effects of using detention:

– Promotes further delinquency via association with delinquent peers.

– Stigmatizes and reinforces a delinquent identity.

– Results in harsher treatment by decision makers.

– Accelerates further involvement in the juvenile justice system.

– Diverts resources from comprehensive community-based interventions.

– Reduces involvement and interaction with community-based services.

– Increases rejection by local public institutions such as schools.

– Promotes isolation, lethargy, and ineffectiveness.

– Results in overcrowding, punitive custody, and abusive conditions.

·         Kids are at greater risk of death

·         Scandals about horrible conditions and the infamous case of the two judges in PA who sentenced kids to private facilities in return for kickbacks

·         60-70% of kids in detention suffer from serious mental disorders and many are there just waiting for placement in a mental health facility

·         One of the worst states is Mississippi where the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a huge law suit - J.B., et al. v. Barbour, et al. – a web site worth reading:


Shelter care facilities

·         Status offenders and dependent, neglected and abused children

·         Three types:

o    Foster home

o    Group foster home

o    Group


·         Scandals are common

·         St. Christopher's Inc. in NYC, is one of the latest

·         Los Angeles County foster care system has experienced huge scandal – LA Times reported 98 deaths in 2009 of children who had at one time or another been under the supervision of the county’s child welfare system, many of whom had been assigned to foster parents

Boys Town

·         An exception to the rule

·         One located here in Las Vegas – called “Girls and Boys Town”


·         Operate both short-term facilities and long-term family environments (which started in Nebraska in 1917 as “Boys Town”)

·         Internships available here in Las Vegas, by the way

Long-Term Facilities

·         Reception and diagnostic centers

·         usually attached to a juvenile prison – this is where they get diagnosed for classification purposes prior to entering the prison

·         Some fit the image, while others resemble large institutions

·         Oklahoma - “Reception and Orientation Center” (ROC) – based on a military model where they learn “compliance” – they are called “residents” rather than “inmates”

Ranches and forestry camps

·         California is most famous for these

·         Youths do conservation work or various sorts of farm/ ranching type work

Boot Camps

·         Represents a militaristic approach to delinquency.

·         No effect on recidivism

·         Why do they fail?

o    No follow-up services

o    Unlike military boot camps, no career awaits the graduates

o    Degrading tactics do not foster positive interpersonal relationships

o    Abuse

·         Scandals galore leading to closure of most

o    Martin Lee Anderson case in Florida is one among many deaths

o    See this website:


Institutional Populations (Table 12-1)

·         Drop of one-third since 1999

·         Public & Private Facilities

·         Private facilities more likely to have status offenders here

·         Not high rate of trauma among prisoners – mostly linked to abuse

·         Racial composition

·         1950 - 23% of those in training schools were minorities

·         1960 - 32%

·         1970 - 40%

·         1989 - 60%

·         1997 - 66%

·         2006 – 63%

·         Why the big increases from until recent years?

Race & Incarceration Rates

·         Table 12-3 - “If you’re white, you’re alright, if you’re brown, stick around, if you’re black, stay back.”

o    black – 518

o    Hispanic – 219

o    whites – 124


·         For drugs:

o    black – 50

o    Hispanic – 20

o    whites - 10

·         Note variation by states; Nevada especially high

·         Summit View “supermax” – kids got the short end of this deal (and taxpayers)

Juveniles Incarcerated in Adult Prisons

·         A small but significant number (about 2,500)

·         See case study of Ashley Jones

·         Abuse rate is high, as is suicide, not to mention a high recidivism rate

Some Effects of Incarceration: the Inmate Social System and Victimization

·         Total Institutions (Goffman’s term)

o    status degradation

o    An expert on trauma has observed that these institutions tend to destroy “a prisoner’s destroy the ability to cope in the free world.”

·         Several studies covering past 30 years paint a rather grim picture

o    National Assessment of Juvenile Corrections (1976) - become more “hardened” over time

o    the longer a youth remained in the institution, the more the youth would: (1) fight with other youths, (2) use drugs, (3) steal something, (4) run away, and (5) hit a staff member

·         state-raised youth (Irwin’s study) - more or less “grew up” within various institutions and their world view becomes distorted, stunted, and incoherent while the prison world becomes their only meaningful world

·         Columbus, Ohio study

o    Strong prey on weak

o    Brutal inmate subculture described as a “jungle”

o    majority engaged in some form of exploitation

·         Note the results of the 15-year follow-up – no changes

·         Inmates at risk for sexual victimization

·         Note results of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003




Will Budget Necessities Lead to Improvement?

·         Many states facing huge deficits have reduced the number of kids in institutions

·         Many have faced lawsuits over all the abuse

o    Farrell v. Harper was the big one in Calif. – after about 30 years of abusive practices (makes you wonder what took so long)

o    Gov. Brown’s budget calls for shutting the rest of the juvenile prisons and moving kids to county facilities where more services will be available but this move presents other problems such as can they handle it?

·         New York – federal investigation found widespread abuse

o    Task force recommended local facilities like Calif. has proposed

o    Legal Aid Society and ACLU filed lawsuits

·         Texas, Ohio – same thing, different states

·         The ghosts of houses of refuge have come home to roost

The California Youth Authority – a brief history (see text box)

• Began in 1941 as a promise to rehabilitate youthful offenders

·         Called its prisoners “wards” – as in a “ward of the state”

• Mission statement is revealing as they aim to:

– “protect the public from criminal activity by providing education, training, and treatment services for youthful offenders”

– “We treat all people with dignity, respect and consideration”; “We demonstrate behavior which is fair, honest, and ethical both on and off the job.”

The Reality

• Series of reports starting in 1980s has exposed the CYA as a brutal regime, with one report noting that the institutions

– “are seriously overcrowded, offer minimal treatment value despite their high expense, and are ineffective in long-term protection of public safety.”

• Life in youth prisons is violent and harsh. Thousands of youths spend their adolescence in an institution where their physical and emotional safety is threatened daily.

• 2004 audit also found that CYA failed to comply with minimum standards for education and failed to meet mandated treatment services

Education at CYA

• In order to allow violent wards to attend classes rather than remaining in lockdown, the CYA decided in 1998 to employ about 70 cages at the four highest security youth prisons.

– The cages, called “secure program areas,” were constructed of metal mesh or chain link fencing and contained a chair and a desk. The cages were arranged in a semicircle around a teacher’s desk.

Recent Scandals

• “We’re in an emergency situation and we need emergency action” - Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

– “This might be a big-ticket item, but the Legislature and the voters need to realize that we’ve starved this system for a long time—we’ve played it on the cheap—and it’s time to do something different.”

• Dan Macallair (CJCJ) “The California Youth Authority is a dinosaur . . . based on a 19th century model.” The institutions need to be torn down.”

• 90% recidivism rate

• Costs $85,000 a year per youth.

• Class action lawsuit filed in 2002 charging “that the CYA was improperly spending state funds on unlawful practices”

• A mentally ill inmate was locked in a filthy isolation cell for 23 hours a day for seven months.

– The toilet in the cell often did not function and he was fed “blender meals,” a whipped mix of food groups, through a straw pushed through his cell door.

• Two counties in the San Francisco Bay area stopped sending youths to the CYA in 2004.

• Newspaper accounts of brutal and inhumane conditions prompted one juvenile court judge to order that youths be kept in their home counties.

• A San Francisco supervisor called for a moratorium on all non-mandatory commitments to CYA

• As a result of the law suit the CYA was to be monitored and the first report said violence was “off the charts” and in which “medical care, psychiatric treatment, education services, gang management, and suicide prevention were inadequate.

• Inspector General report stated that the most troubling finding “is that many of the deficiencies that have not been corrected are central to the Youth Authority’s core mission of rehabilitating the young people entrusted to its care.”

• Court order resulting from the lawsuit

– CYA must change to smaller living units closer to a youth’s home

• Not all are happy with this and don’t support treatment, holding a stereotypic view.

• A retired corrections officer who was stabbed by a ward voiced the following opinion: “Who wrote this plan, Walt Disney? We’re not talking about bicycle thieves and runaways. These are murderers, carjackers, hard-core criminals. Therapy and coloring crayons aren’t going to help.”

• Ironically one of the reasons he was a victim of violence was the repressive policies and practices of the CYA

A Failed Program - The Case of Arizona  

Johnson v. Upchurch, 1986 lawsuit found that “policies, practices, and conditions of confinement” at this prison amounted to “cruel, unconscionable, and illegal conditions of confinement.”

– Forced AZ to get serious about treatment and so they set up a program that was supposed to “give youths a greater sense of control over their lives, to encourage them to affirm their own worth, and to engender hope for the future.”

• Within 3 months things started to go wrong

Reasons for Failure

• resistance from staff and administrators (administrators described as “authoritarian” in their management style) plus political opposition from conservative forces

• model program, but the working conditions for most staff members did not improve

• they continued to receive low salaries, demanding working conditions, menial tasks, and perceptions of lack of support and respect from superiors

• Biggest reason: various social and personal contexts that resulted in a person’s problems with drugs, gangs, and violence are left untouched.

• failure to establish a substance abuse program

High Recidivism Rates for juvenile prisons

• Range from 50 to 80+ percent

Barriers to Re-entry

• Lack of community support and role models

• Legislative barriers

• cutbacks in education grants (Pell), despite the fact that education is a proven antidote to criminal activity

• 1996 Welfare Reform Act prohibits offenders with a felony offense that involves drugs from receiving any cash assistance for the rest of their life

Aftercare/Parole for Ex–Juvenile Offenders

• Knowing background characteristics is key to understanding why so many fail during “aftercare”

• “Aftercare” is a misnomer since not much “care” is given “after” release

• Many are “state-raised” youth with all sorts of deficits such as:

– Drug problems – many started using at age 12

– Education – (half never finished 8th grade)

– Mental health problems (68%)

• One report summarized these facts as falling into the following general categories:

– (1) they are still adolescents, with many experiencing “delayed emotional and cognitive development” largely because of emotional abuse and early drug use;

– (2) most of them “have never successfully used problem-solving or coping skills outside of the correctional setting”;

– (3) most “still have no adults in their lives to help them learn the skills they need to deal with” everyday life challenges.

• Still stuck at earlier stage of adolescence even though most are in late teens

• No transition assistance like that given to most HS grads