Study Calls for ‘Repurposing’ Youth Prisons as Social Services Centers

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Philadelphia's "Youth Study Center," designed in 1948. Photo by Ezra Wolfe via Flickr

As the number of incarcerated youth in America continues to decline, and as youth detention facilities close, policymakers should utilize unused youth prisons for job creation, social services, business growth, and neighborhood revitalization, suggests the Urban Institute in a report released Tuesday.

The authors of the report, entitled “Transforming Closed Youth Prisons:  Repurposing Facilities to Meet Community Needs,” warn that if youth prisons are left vacant and unchanged, they could be re-opened as prisons.

“The vacant facilities bring a range of public health and safety concerns to communities and can be physical reminders of the harmful impact of incarceration,” the report said.

“If left vacant and unchanged, youth facilities are susceptible to being reopened as correctional facilities, missing the opportunity to contribute to positive local development and meet demonstrated social needs.”

According to the report, between 1999 and 2015, the number of youth detained or placed out of home declined by more than half, leading to hundreds of facility closures.

The authors interviewed 41 stakeholders involved in re-purposing efforts across the country, and made the following recommendations and conclusions:

∎ Consider the costs and missed opportunities of unused, vacant facility land, including costs to municipalities and the impact on local property values and crime rates;

∎ Be intentional about priorities for the property early on, and clearly articulate requirements for potential occupants;

∎ Consult with the community to identify local needs;

∎ Facilitate partnerships with key stakeholders early and often;

∎ Streamline the approval process for transferring land;

∎ Educate and partner with community members.

The report was written by Hanna Love, Samantha Harvell, Chloe Warnberg, and Julia Durnan.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by Megan Hadley, a staff writer at The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers. 

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