Campaign Urges Governors to Stop Putting Youths in Adult Jails and Prisons

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Image from Campaign for Youth Justice

Image from Campaign for Youth Justice

The Washington-based Campaign for Youth Justice is leading an effort to urge U.S. governors to stop allowing youths to be placed in adult jails and prisons.

The campaign led by the nonprofit CFYJ – which seeks to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under 18 as adults – comes as governors must report this week to the U.S. Department of Justice whether their states intend to comply with standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

PREA, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, includes a “youthful inmate standard” that:

  • Bans the housing of youth in the general adult population in adult jails and prisons.

  • Prohibits contact between youth and adult inmates in common areas in adult facilities and requires constant supervision of youth by staff.

  • Limits use of isolation of youth in adult facilities. Isolation can cause or exacerbate mental illness and has been linked to youth suicides.

By Thursday, governors are required to report to DOJ that their states will use a portion of federal grant dollars toward coming into compliance with PREA standards.

The federal government also has devoted about $40 million to states, the District of Columbia and national organizations over the past two years to bring compliance with PREA.

The easiest way to comply with the youthful inmate standard would be to remove youths from adult facilities, Carmen Daugherty, CFYJ’s policy director, told JJIE, reflecting her organization’s philosophy.

“Kids are kids, and kids should not be in the adult system,” she said.

Moving toward compliance with the youthful inmate standard will put a lot of pressure on states that treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the justice system to stop doing so, Daugherty said.

“The PREA standards will protect hundreds of thousands of kids prosecuted in the adult system every year, and get us one step closer to completely removing youth from adult jails and prisons,” Daugherty said in a news release. “We hope that as states implement these important standards, they use this opportunity to reconsider the practice of prosecuting and sentencing youth as adults overall.”

Each year, about 100,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons, and they are significantly more likely than adults to be victims of sexual violence while incarcerated, CFYJ says.

CFYJ – with support of more than 100 juvenile justice, youth, civil liberties, human rights, religious, mental health and other organizations – has launched Facebook, Twitter and letter-writing campaigns urging governors to stop putting youths in adult jails and prisons.

After the enactment of PREA, the Justice Department established a PREA commission to develop regulations, and the commission held public hearings throughout the country during which it heard testimony from families and administrators.

The PREA standards were finally released in 2012.

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