Tens of thousands of children are incarcerated in youth prisons every day; thousands more are also locked up in adult prisons and jails. Imagine a child locked alone in a small empty room for days, weeks, or months. While many youth prisons are called “schools,” few of these facilities provide quality education services, nor do they provide access to mental health care or other services children need to heal.

Too many incarcerated youth are subject to solitary confinement — often for 22-24 hours per day — strip searches, shackles, and chemical sprays. These abusive practices cause physical injuries, emotional trauma and psychological harm, and interrupt healthy development. Youth in prison also face physical and sexual violence, compounding the trauma imposed by their isolation and separation from their families, friends and communities.

The juvenile justice system was established to rehabilitate children and provide them second chances as they make the transition to adulthood. Research confirms that locking children up for long periods of time — especially under the harsh conditions that we see all too frequently in the juvenile justice system — causes more harm than good and does little to protect our communities.

Our children deserve more.

Images: © Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com

Imagine a child locked alone in a small empty room for days, weeks, or months. At home, we would call it child abuse. In many youth prisons, it is accepted practice.

What We're Doing

Juvenile Law Center engages in federal and state legislative reform, impact litigation, research, and public education to improve conditions for youth in prison. We also work to eliminate extremely lengthy sentences for youth, focusing especially on juvenile life without parole. We believe that youth should be held accountable for their wrongdoing in developmentally appropriate ways that consider their age as well as their individual characteristics and attributes.

Neither juvenile nor adult prisons are appropriate places for youth. Research shows that youth do better when they stay in their communities or with their families. We work with partners around the country to reduce the over-incarceration of youth, keep youth close to home and divert youth from the justice system whenever possible.

Images: © Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com

Select Projects

Hundreds of individuals nationwide are serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.

Every state charges juvenile justice costs, fees, fines, or restitution. Youth who can’t afford to pay for their freedom often face serious consequences, including incarceration, extended probation, or denial of treatment—they are unfairly penalized for being poor and pulled deeper into the justice system. 

The Blueprint for Change is designed to be a tool for all stakeholders to identify what they can do to promote educational success for youth in the juvenile justice system in their jurisdiction. 

How You Can Help

Join the national movement to end solitary confinement and harsh prison conditions for children.