Zero Tolerance: How States Comply with PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard

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Author(s): Campaign for Youth Justice

Published: Dec. 3, 2015

Report Intro/Brief:
"The United States’ extraordinary use of adult correctional facilities to house youth presents numerous concerns, including serious, long-term costs to the youth offender and to society at large. Science and research conducted over the last 20 years confirm what common sense tells us: kids are different. Adolescent development and adolescent brain research have prompted leaders across the country to start looking at our juvenile justice system through a developmentally appropriate lens. Such a perspective equally applies to the treatment of youth who would be eligible for adult prison sentences. In light of the decline of youth arrests and youth crime, coupled with the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) the housing status of the 1200 youth under 18 years of age in the adult prison must be investigated. Each state has its own unique prison system, so in order to determine the housing status of youth we gathered information on each state’s statutes, policies, and practices for housing the shrinking — and at times — invisible, population of youth in adult prisons across the country.

Despite the strong language provided in PREA, state laws vary widely as to the regulations and parameters for housing youth in adult prisons. In fact, some states have no regulations or parameters governing the treatment of youth sentenced as adults at all. While some states have fully removed youth from their prison systems, the overwhelming majority of states allow youth to be housed in adult prisons. The PREA requirements have become the emerging standard of care for the housing of youth in adult facilities, yet the majority of states still permit the housing of youth in adult facilities, often times with no special housing protections. Once youth are sentenced in adult court to an adult prison term, few jurisdictions have enacted safeguards to protect their physical, mental and emotional health. Additionally, programs and behavioral responses in adult facilities rarely are adjusted to meet the needs of adolescent populations.

This report explores how states house youth under 18 in prisons in the new age of PREA compliance and enforcement. Furthermore, this report highlights national trends in juvenile arrests, crimes, and incarceration of children in the adult system. With evidence of the decreasing number of youth entering the adult system, the recommendations focus on how states can successfully remove all youth from adult prisons."