The number of minors being held in adult jails and prisons in this country has dropped substantially, says the New York Times. Criminologists warn that juvenile offenders who are thrown in with adult prisoners are exposed to social pressures and develop personal contacts that make it far more likely that they will become career criminals than those held in juvenile facilities. A new study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency shows that the number of minors being held in adult facilities has decreased by 38 percent since 1999. Partly because of reductions in juvenile crime and arrests, the number of children held in juvenile facilities also fell.
The Times editorializes that Congress can consolidate these gains by using aid to impose a clear federal standard: To qualify for federal juvenile-justice funds, states must certify that people under 18 are not being jailed as adults, except in cases involving heinous crimes like rape and murder. States still seem to be holding in juvenile facilities many children who should be treated in therapeutic programs near their homes and families, says the Times. Such programs can turn young lives around and reduce crime. Because incarceration is so costly, these programs can more than pay for themselves. The decline in the juvenile custody rate was much greater for whites than for African-Americans, who account for less than 15 percent of the youth population but nearly 40 percent of those in confinement.