NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Adjusting to Influx of Adolescent Prison Inmates

July 25, 2001

In response to the thousands of juvenile offenders who have come under their supervision in the last decade, administrators of adult jails and prisons are taking steps to cope with the special needs and dangers of adolescents in an adult correctional population.

Corrections officials in Nevada, Colorado, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and other states are having to adjust to the new reality that juveniles are increasingly being sentenced to adult facilities as a way of cracking down on crime among young offenders.

  • In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 45 states passed or amended legislation to send not only violent young offenders, but also teenagers convicted of burglary or drug offenses, into the adult system.
  • As a result, the number of youths admitted to adult prisons doubled in little more than a decade -- to 7,000 in 1998 from 3,400 in 1985.
  • There were 9,100 offenders under 18 in adult jails in 1997.
  • While the juvenile crime rate has dropped sharply in the last few years, one in every 10 juveniles incarcerated on any given day are sent to adult jails or prisons.

While practices vary from state to state, for the most part there is an effort to segregate youthful inmates from older prisoners. Some prisons are even changing menus and adding meals to meet the nutritional needs of teenagers.

Juvenile prisoners' needs also vary from the needs of older prisoners in one very specific way: they often outgrow their shoes and uniforms.

Source: Sara Rimer, "States Adjust Adult Prisons to Needs of Youth Inmates," New York Times, July 25, 2001.


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