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Inadequacies in Juvenile-Detention Facilities Detailed

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WASHINGTON--Crowding is a pervasive and serious problem in juvenile-detention and -correctional facilities across the nation, according to a Justice Department study released here last week.

In 1991, roughly three out of four juveniles were confined in facilities that did not measure up to all assessment criteria in terms of living space, health care, security, or control of suicidal behavior, the study says.

That year, nearly half--47 percent--of confined juveniles were housed in facilities that exceeded their reported design capacity, up from 36 percent in 1987.

Such crowding led to higher rates of injuries to staff members by juvenile inmates, inmate searches, and use of short-term isolation as a disciplinary measure, according to the study.

"This study puts an exclamation point on the obvious conclusion that America must take better care of its children before they get into trouble and not abandon them once they are in trouble,'' Attorney General Janet Reno said in a statement.

Suicide a Concern

The study, conducted by a consultant for the Justice Department, is the first national investigation of conditions in secure juvenile-detention and -correctional facilities and the most comprehensive ever on the juvenile-detention field, according to John J. Wilson, the acting administrator of the office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

The data, gathered in 1991, cover all 984 public and private juvenile-detention centers, reception centers, training schools, ranches, camps, and farms.

Those facilities held about 65,000 juveniles, or about 69 percent of all juveniles confined nationally.

The report recommends the elimination of large dormitories from juvenile facilities. Researchers found injuries inflicted by juveniles on their peers increased as the proportion of juveniles who slept in dormitories with 11 or more residents increased.

Suicidal behavior is also a "serious'' problem in juvenile facilities, the report says. In 1990, a total of 10 confined juveniles killed themselves, and 11,000 such juveniles engage in more than 17,000 incidents of suicidal behavior each year, it says.

In response to the report, department officials are forming a consortium of national organizations, private foundations, and federal, state, and local government agencies to plan and promote long-term improvements in the conditions of confinement for juveniles.

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