Your browser does not support JavaScript!

The Inside:

Treated Like an Adult

A Collaboration between UNIS Human Rights Project & Proof: Media for Social Justice

Nearly 50,000 youth are incarcerated in the  juvenile justice system in the U.S. on any given day. The current juvenile justice system is modeled on the adult system, focusing on control and punishment with some programs aimed at rehabilitation. Although they are referred to as juvenile detention, correctional centers, training schools or youth centers, nearly all are the equivalent of youth prisons.

Boys make up 85% of detained youth and girls make up the remaining 15%. Youth of color represent a disproportionate number of those incarcerated, despite studies that show that they commit roughly the same level of juvenile crime as White youth. Black youth are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than White youth, Native American youth are 3.2 times as likely and Latino youth are almost twice as likely. The majority of youth are locked-up for drug, public order, or property crimes.

Many justice-involved youth have histories of abuse and failure by adults around them. This trauma is often exacerbated in juvenile detention where abuse  is endemic and widespread. Youth are often kept in harsh institutional environments with sterile surroundings, bright lights, long periods of isolation and the constant threat of violence. They are often denied peer groups that model appropriate social behavior, engaged adults, opportunities for academic success, and opportunities to improve decision-making skills and impulsive behaviors. Studies have shown that instead of helping to rehabilitate youth, juvenile detention exacerbates many of the factors that drove them into the system in the first place.

There is increasing support  for shutting down youth prisons and replacing them with much smaller, rehabilitative programs that focus on turning lives around. Several studies have shown that well-designed community programs that allow youth to build respectful and engaging relationships with adults, and that emphasize treatment, education, job training, family engagement, and community connections are more effective at lowering recidivism rates.

Test your knowledge.

Chapter 09 — Question 01

In the U.S. how many youths are incarcerated in the juvenile justice system every day?

Correct! Wrong!

50,000 youths are incarcerated in the U.S. juvenile justice system every day.

Chapter 9 — Question 01

Hernan Carvente


At the end of the day, I was also a young person, 16, sitting in a juvenile facility, away from my family, away from my community, being treated like I was less than human and ultimately made to believe I would amount to nothing. Mind you, everyone who said I would amount to nothing, I’ve proved wrong. When I came out, they told me I was gonna die but I graduated from John Jay College with a bachelors in Criminal Justice. Now, I am pushing for reforms that will give young people meaningful second chances, or even several chances if needed. I went from being a gang-ganging, illiterate, angry Latino kid to a successful advocate of change

Read Hernan Story
Continue to

Chapter Ten