Juveniles in Adult Prisons

A deep look into juveniles in adult prisons. Touch bases on several smaller issues that contribute to juveniles being in and effects of adult prisons. The United States Bureau of Prisons handles two hundred and thirty-nine juveniles and their average age is seventeen. Execution of juveniles, The United States is one of only six countries to execute juveniles.

There are sixty-eight juveniles sitting on death row for crimes committed as juveniles. Forty-three of those inmates are minorities. People, who are too young to vote, drink alcohol, or drive are held to the same standard of responsibility as adults. In prisons, they argue that the juveniles become targets of older, more hardened criminals.

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Brian Stevenson, Director of the Alabama Capital Resource Center said, “We have totally given up in the idea of reform of rehabilitation for the very young. We are basically saying we will throw those kids away. Juvenile Justice Bulletin Report shows that two-thirds of juveniles apprehended for violent offenses were released or put on probation. Only slightly more than one-third of youths charged with homicide was transferred to adult criminal court.

Little more than one out of every one hundred New York youths arrested for muggings, beatings, rape and murder ended up in a correctional institution. Another report showed a delinquent boy has to be arrested on average thirteen times before the court will act more restrictive than probation. Laws began changing as early as 1978 in New York to try juveniles over 12 who commit violent crimes as adults did. However, even since the laws changed only twenty percent of serious offenders served any time.

The decision of whether to waive a juvenile to the adult or criminal court is made in a transfer hearing. The two major criteria for waiver are the age of the child and type of offense alleged in the petition. Some jurisdictions require the child to be over a certain age and charged with a felony, while others permit waiver if the child is over a certain age regardless of offense. Still yet, others have no conditions. Juveniles can be tried in all stated in one of three ways:

  1. Concurrent Jurisdiction: the prosecutor has the discretion of filing charge offenses in either juvenile or criminal court.
  2. Excluded offenses: the legislature excludes from juvenile court jurisdiction certain offenses that are either very minor, such as traffic or fishing violations, or very serious, such as murder or rape.
  3. Judicial waiver: the juvenile court waives its jurisdiction and transfers the case to criminal court.

Barry Feld, Juvenile Law Scholar, suggests that waivers to adult court be mandatory for serious crimes. Those espousing the crime control model believe that the overriding purpose is protection of the public, deterrence or violent juvenile behavior, and the incarceration of serious youthful offenders in the adult criminal justice system. The rehabilitative justice model view this as an attack on the juvenile justice system, but crime control advocates consider such steps a necessary response to a rising juvenile violence rate.

The Southwest Multi County Corrections Center, a two-story adult jail is the largest maximum-security program for juveniles under federal authority. The BOP pays $99.80 a day for each juvenile. About half of the juveniles are over two hundred and fifty miles from home. Distance is on the main criticisms of putting juveniles in the BOP system. Most experts agree that for rehabilitation to succeed, families of jailed youths should be involved in their therapy and lives. Larry Beredtro, President of Reclaiming Youth International, address “Obviously, the government needs to cease using nonregional placement for kids. My concern has been with the issue of the federal government placing kids hundreds or thousands of miles away from home.

The facility Director Norbert Sickler says “the facility helps pay travel expenses for some families and offers free accommodations in the area. We do encourage the kids to keep family connections both by writing and telephone also.” The BOP does plan to house all federal juveniles within two hundred and fifty miles of their homes by fiscal year 2000. Staff attorney for the Youth Law Center says even that might not be good enough. He stresses the point that no strong after-care programs are set up so therefore is no transition back to the community. Leaving the kids to pick up right where they left off.

Although the Congress is talking of charging more juveniles in federal courts, no one has answered if the federal prisons can handle more juveniles. The BOP already struggles to handle the two hundred thirty-nine juveniles under its control. The federal prison system is built for adults and has one hundred sixteen thousand of them.

The number of youths has already risen from one hundred and eleven in 1990. There are not many talks of how they will handle more youths just that they are going to get tough. Youths can land in federal prison for violations of federal law such as drug trafficking and bank robbery or for crimes on federal property. Most are in for felonies committed on Indian reservations. Native Americans make up two-thirds of all juveniles in the BOP system. James Cunningham, another juvenile-justice expert says that the BOP’s “instruments were geared toward adult penal situations and not toward rehabilitating children.

What they are doing is not meeting then needs of those children in terms of rehabilitation.” An audit team found that each youth gets just twenty hours a week of programs including schooling, vocational training, counseling, a and mental health services; if that. It is also known that most of the juveniles have serious problems with alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine so they need some licensed counselors to address those addictions. The BOP does plan to substantially upgrade programs for juveniles, says sledge, of the agency’s community corrections and detention division.

Could the BOP handle even more juveniles? Youth advocates, judges, and police have been critical of the movement to federalize crimes already handled by states. They see no advantage to sending kids to faraway prisons under federal jurisdiction.

Should society protect itself from the “fiendish acts” of young killers or give them the chance to put their lives back together? Clayton Joel Glowers is awaiting execution in Holman Prison; he is the youngest person in Alabaman on death row and the second youngest in the country. He was sentenced to die in Alabama’s electric chair for sodomizing a junior college coed, beating her to death with a car jack and dumping her body in a creek when he was 15 years old. “It’s rough, all the tension, and all the worry, knowing that I didn’t do the crime, and I have been put in here.”

Flowers said during an interview in prison. Jay Thompson, who was 17 when he was accused of murdering an elderly couple, pspent five years on death row in Indiana for his sentence was commuted to one hundred and twenty years. With good behavior, he will be 78 years old when he leaves prison. Thompson says, “ It is a very hard thought because I will never experience having a family, kids and a normal life. You don’t realize many things until it’s too late.”

There are sixty-eight juveniles nationwide on death row. Which is a big increase from thirty-seven in 1982. Two-thirds of this group are minorities, and two-thirds of their alleged victims were white. Funny how society is willing to give second chances to white children, but that does not extend to Latino or black children.

In 1988, The Supreme Court ruled in Wayne Thompson vs. Oklahoma that it us unconstitutional to execute anyone who was 15 at the time of the crime. In 1989, The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for those who committed a capital offense at age 16 or 17. Many people fear that the increase in juvenile murders will spur renewed interest in executing teens or locking them away for the rest of their lives. Prosecutors say many of these adolescents must be executed or given life sentences because they are depraved killers who pose a serious threat to society.

Others-contend juveniles should be given the opportunity to put their lives back together. District Court juvenile Judge Robert E. Lewis of Gadsen, Ala says, “I’ve seen 15-year-old kids who were 25 years old, streetwise. Some have reached the point where they are not anything in this world but vicious predators. The jungle is the only place predators can roam free. A civilized society is not supposed to have predator at large. The message ought to be that it is a no-no to go out and kill, and if you do you may pay for it with your life.”+

The politics of it all is that many prosecutors will seek the death penalty more for juveniles who kill-as a plea bargain tool to encourage the youngsters to plea to life without parole. For a 14-15-16 year old, the thought of being strapped in the electric chair or death itself, is so frightening that they are coerced into pleading for life in prison. Every politician is promising to get tough on juveniles. It is the new catchword. We will probably see even more call for the death penalty for juveniles for re-election sake.

A 1988 study of fourteen juveniles on death row in four states concluded they had brain abnormalities, low IQs, poor mental test scores, a and serious psychiatric problems. All had suffered severe head injuries as children. Only a psychiatrist before trial had even examined five of the fourteen subjects. Although Troy Dugan was borderline mentally retarded and extremely mentally ill when he killed a man at age 15, today he lives on death row in Louisiana’s Angola Prison. His parents’ fed him liquor form the time he was six years old to calm him down. His original defense attorneys never presented any of this information at his trial. Victor Strieb, a law professor at Cleveland State University says, “It is basic human notion that you don’t hold juveniles to the same standard. Politicians who say the death penalty will cure the homicide problem are like snake oil salesmen.”

Justice Scalia examined State and Federal laws and jury decisions regarding capital punishment for juveniles. In concluding that the evidence of a national consensus against capital punishment for juveniles was inadequate, he relied upon the fact that fifteen of the thirty seven states have capital punishment precluded its imposition upon 16 year olds, while twelve foreclosed its imposition upon 17 year olds.

Justice O’Connor, concurring in part and in the judgment, agreed that no national consensus existed rejection the execution of 16 or 17 year old capital murders, and that the death sentences should be affirmed. She also stated that the Court, in the Eighth Amendment Jurisprudence, should also determine whether the punishment imposed was proportional to the blameworthiness of the defendant. In a nationwide poll conducted for TIME and CNN, those responding expressed strong disapproval of the death penalty for the retarded, although a majority supported executing teenagers.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that executes juvenile offenders. There are only six countries that are known to have executed juvenile offenders in the 90’s: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia Iran, Nigeria, Yemen-and the US. We should be embarrassed to find ourselves in that company that other countries are known for human rights violations. Of the thirty-eight states that allow the death penalty, fifteen set the age at 18, four set it at age 17, and 21 have a minimum of 16 years of age or no minimum at all.

Because American justice grinds on so slowly, because the appeals process in death penalty cases often lasts years, juveniles who face capital punishment are almost always adults by the time the sentence is carried out. The aging perhaps makes it easier to flip the switch, pull the lever, or inject the needle.

Putting young offenders in adult prisons leads to more crime, higher prison costs, and increased violence, not to mention placing them in danger from the adult prison population.


  1. Glick, B. (1998) No Time to Play: Youthful Offenders in Adult Correctional Systems. American Correctional Association
  2. Wilkerson, I (1996) “Death Sentence at Sixteen Rekindles Debate on Justice for Juveniles.” New York Times, November
  3. Butts, J.A. and Snyder, H. (1997) “The Youngest Delinquents: Offenders Under the Age of 15,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice)
  4. Lefevre, P.S., “Professor Grapples with Execution of Juveniles.” National Catholic Reporter
  5. Snyder, A. “Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders” (1997) National Center for Juvenile Justice

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Juveniles in Adult Prisons. (2018, Aug 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/juveniles-in-adult-prisons/