The Annie E. Casey Foundation is throwing new weight into its campaign to close state juvenile correctional centers, saying they've effectively become “youth prisons” where teens are abused, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The foundation is calling for an end to “large, prison-like institutions” for teens committed to custody by a judge. In a new TEDx talk, foundation president Patrick McCarthy says large, secure facilities have become “factories of failure” that wreck the lives of the kids they're supposed to help. “We need to admit that what we’re doing doesn’t work, and is making the problem worse while costing billions of dollars and ruining thousands of lives,” he says. It's not a new stance for the foundation, but it's taking the argument beyond practitioners and policy wonks, and it has left many in the juvenile justice field questioning its practicality.
McCarthy's call is accompanied by a new report that documents widespread physical abuse and excessive use of force in many youth lockups, saying years of efforts to reform those institutions have fallen short. “The troubling evidence presented in this report should remove any remaining doubt that large conventional juvenile corrections facilities — or plainly stated, youth prisons — are inherently prone to abuse,” the report says. “Given public officials' inability to prevent maltreatment, or even to clean up youth prisons where inhumane conditions are revealed, it seems difficult to argue that confinement in these institutions offers a safe approach for rehabilitating delinquent youth.” Nate Balis, head of Casey's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, said the foundation wants to take that message “to a much different audience.”