What Do Teens in Prison Need to Be Successful?

Benjamin Chambers
April 5, 2011


Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, has a unique perspective on what teens in prison need to be successful.

Locked up in federal prison at age 34 for a drug crime committed in
her early 20s, Kerman spent a year living in close quarters with many
women, including 18- and 19-year-old girls.

What were the three things she thought they needed to be successful?

  1. Positive attention. She found the teens in particular were
    incredibly responsive to positive attention, creating significant
    opportunities for change -- opportunities that were often missed.
  2. Continued connection to their families and their own children.
  3. Alcohol and drug treatment and mental health services.

But you should really hear it from her own lips. Fortunately, when
she was in town earlier this week, Piper graciously agreed to be
interviewed (see above).

What impact did the experience have on her?  Among other things, it
has turned her into an eloquent advocate for juvenile justice reform,
and addressing disproportionate minority contact in the adult and
juvenile justice systems. Now that's a great outcome.

column originally appeared on Reclaiming Futures. It is reprinted with permission.