Increasingly, juvenile justice advocates and system partners are calling for the closure of large, prison-like youth facilities. While these reforms are critically important given the research showing the dangers of confinement — particularly for low-risk youth — the practical reality is that reaching such a paradigm shift will not happen overnight.
In any jurisdiction, the effort will require a comprehensive strategy focused relentlessly on achieving public safety and positive youth outcomes. A full continuum of community-based services will need to be developed. Youth will need to be safely transitioned home. Buy-in from communities and stakeholders will need to be attained.
As we engage in these efforts, we must ask ourselves: What happens to the kids left in facilities in the meantime?
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, approximately 54,000 youth were placed in residential facilities in 2013, representing a 50 percent decline in the number of youth in placement since 1999.