Nearly a decade after Arizona made it easier to send juveniles to adult prison, the state is churning out a tougher class of teenage criminals, who are hitting the streets young and angry and hurting more people, according to an investigation by the Arizona Republic. Twice as many juveniles convicted of non- violent crimes now are being swept into the state’s adult prison, where they are housed with rapists, robbers and murderers. More than one in four will graduate to a violent crime when they are released.
These teenagers have gone into an overcrowded and underfunded prison system that has largely overlooked their unique needs. They spend their formative teen years in a punitive environment meant for adults, where rehabilitation has typically been an afterthought. They grow up in cages in a culture of violence and racial segregation and can be isolated in lockdown 23 hours a day for months at a time. Anti- social behaviors become their norm. “A mad scientist couldn’t have invented a worse approach,” said Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. “This is exactly what you shouldn’t do.”