Author Argues Against Juvenile Incarceration

June 9, 2014

If it costs $88,000 per year to incarcerate one young person for one year, it’s worth asking the question, “what’s the return on investment?”  The question is one of many author Nell Bernstein asks – and attempts to answer – in her new book, Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.

We at the Community Foundation are particularly keen on reading the book given our donors’ burgeoning interest in supporting efforts to reform the juvenile justice system in New Jersey.  Click here to take a look at our collective work in this area.

In a recent NPR interview (which we think is worth a listen, so click here), Bernstein argues that “detention usually makes [troubled youths’] problems worse, and sets them in the direction of more crime and self-destructive behavior.”

She goes on: “The greatest predictor of adult incarceration and adult criminality wasn’t gang involvement, wasn’t family issues, wasn’t delinquency itself. “The greatest predictor that a kid would grow up to be a criminal was being incarcerated in a juvenile facility.”

Among some of Bernstein’s more thought-provoking arguments:

  • You can’t have a therapeutic interaction with a guy who has the key to your cell.
  • Twelve percent of kids, at least, are being abused inside these facilities, and … there’s a general culture of impunity.
  • A black kid today is almost five times more likely to be locked up as a white kid who committed the exact same crime.
  • Eighty to 90 percent of all American teenagers in confidential interviews will acknowledge that they have committed an offense or offenses that under the law they could be locked up for.