What do Teens in Prison Need to be Successful?

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Imagine being ripped from your safe, normal professional life and thrust into federal prison for a year, for something stupid you did when you were a teenager, or even a young adult.

Piper Kerman doesn’t have to imagine it, because that’s exactly what happened to her. She was locked up in a federal prison at age 34 for a drug crime she committed in her early 20s.

Because Kerman spent a year living in close quarters with many women, including 18- and 19-year-old girls, she has an unusual, nearly first-hand perspective on what teens in prison need to be successful.

Here’s her suggestions about what they need:

  1. Positive attention. Kerman 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: check out the video above.

What impact did the experience have on Kerman?  It moved her to produce an acclaimed memoir of her experience, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison – a memoir, she says, which even her former cellmates are pleased about.

More importantly, perhaps, the experience turned Kerman into an advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, and for addressing disproportionate minority contact in the adult and juvenile justice systems.

The above story and video are reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

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