Conditions in Youth Prisons

On any given day, almost 50,000 young people are locked up in juvenile facilities across the country. These institutions—many of which are over 100 years old—harm young people developmentally, psychologically, and—far too often—physically. Black youth are still over five times more likely than their white peers to be detained or incarcerated. Yet, the United States continues to rely on this outdated model as the backbone of its juvenile justice system.

In 2017-2018, Juveniles for Justice made a commitment to address this broken system and ensure that all young people have a chance for a bright future. Our youth advocates published Broken Bridges, a guide for stakeholders to understand the experiences of young people in placement facilities. The publication documents the youth advocates’ experiences inside facilities, outlines their recommendations for change, and includes sample questions to help advocates and courts gather information about young people’s experiences in facilities.

In 2018, J4J presented their stories to Philadelphia Councilperson Helen Gym who then called a City Council hearing on May 17, 2018 to assess the conditions of facilities under contract with Philadelphia DHS. At the hearing, three youth advocates testified about their experiences, and after the hearing City Council established a task force to address the issue of youth institutional placement. Following the hearing, every member of Juveniles for Justices received citations from the city honoring their work to shed light on this important issue. Additionally, Fox News interviewed two members of J4J about their advocacy work and experience in juvenile facilities. 

J4J also partnered with Philadelphia Mural Arts and artist Mark Strandquist on “Imagining Justice,” a special pop-up exhibition and public event at City Hall in June, 2018. Imagining Justice challenged participants to re-imagine the system without youth incarceration as an option, and centered youth who have experienced incarceration as experts on this issue.

J4J youth advocates shared their stories and discussed their recommendations and alternatives to youth prisons during small group discussions with representatives from Philadelphia Defenders Association, Philadelphia Department of Human Services, Philadelphia City Council, the police department, and other stakeholders and advocates.