While the past few decades have brought reforms to juvenile justice, the United States still incarcerates more of its youth than any country in the world. In 2008, there were over 90,000 youth incarcerated, with states spending $5.7 billion annually to imprison youth. Of the 2,200 juveniles serving life without parole nationally, Pennsylvania has sentenced the greatest number of them.
Juvenile detention has devastating consequences on life outcomes for youth. While youth in detention are often viewed as perpetrators, they are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime as the population as a whole. Truancy is often a path to detention, with studies showing that 75-85% of serious juvenile offenders have been chronically truant. A young person involved with the juvenile justice system is more likely to drop out of high school, struggle with mental and behavioral disorders or learning disabilities and is at alarming risk for sexual abuse. Once having entered the system, these young people return to their home communities with dim prospects for graduation or gainful employment. With limited opportunity and earning power, there is little hope to break cycles of substance abuse, violence and involvement with the criminal justice system.
The Stoneleigh Foundation supports the work of fellows seeking to prevent and reduce justice involvement of youth. With unprecedented numbers in the adult criminal justice system, youth must be diverted from the systems altogether and as early as possible. We believe resources must be realigned to prevent youth from entering the system and that new approaches and ideas must inform changes in policy and practice to improve their well-being. There are many other possible solutions, and we welcome your ideas.
Prevent Youth from Entering the System
Even with well-established, evidence-based youth prevention programs, there are still too many young people imprisoned and on track to involvement in the adult prison system. Stoneleigh fellows have worked on promising “off ramps” to the juvenile justice system—programs or interventions that can successfully divert youth at risk from involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Improve Well-being of Youth in the System
The education, health, behavioral health and workforce readiness of youth in the juvenile justice system are our primary interests. These young people are no strangers to school failure, physical and emotional trauma, or hopelessness about their future. While girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population and up to 92 percent of them have experienced some form of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, both girls and boys receive inadequate health care services while detained. Furthermore, detained youth routinely experience inferior education and job training programming—often leaving them worse off than when they entered. Stoneleigh fellows work to reverse these trends.
There is still a lot to be understood about why youth recidivate and what programs are most effective in keeping youth from reentering the juvenile justice system. In Pennsylvania, more than half the state's juveniles are reincarcerated within five years of being released. Stoneleigh fellows work to improve the systems that serve these youth, by addressing the violence related trauma that can lead youth to (re)enter the juvenile system and building victims-focused alternatives to incarceration, with a focus on young men of color.