Kids and Jails, a Bad Combination

December 29, 2014

There are few bright spots in America’s four-decade-long incarceration boom, but one enduring success — amid all the wasted money and ruined lives — has been the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the landmark law passed by Congress in 1974.

The essence of the act is a set of protections for young people caught up in a criminal justice system built for grown-ups. In the past, juvenile offenders were routinely locked up with adults, exposing them to physical and sexual abuse and making them more likely to break the law again when they got out.

Some judges, however, still put far too many kids behind bars by relying on an exception to the status offense rule that allows them to lock up juveniles who have been warned not to reoffend. In 2011, about 8,800 juveniles were detained for status offenses. This continues even though the evidence is clear that young people are less likely to commit future crimes if earlier interventions are based in their communities.

Read more about the act and its importance on The New York Times website.