The Addiction Web Site of Terence T. Gorski

Best Practice Principles  - Articles  - Publications

Mission & Vision -  Clinical Model - Training & Consulting

Home - What's New - Site Map - Search - Book Reviews

 Links - Daily News Review 

  Research Databases  - Leading Addiction Websites -

Special Focus:  Mental Health, Substance Abuse, & Terrorism


Executive Summary

Juveniles in Adult Prisons and Jails.
A National Assessment
By James Austin Ph.D., 
Kelly Dedel Johnson, 
Ph.D., Maria Gregoriou, M.A.

October 2000

GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications (
Published On: June 10, 2001          Updated On: August 07, 2001

Historical Context of the Study

The development of a distinct justice system tailored to recognize the mitigating factors associated with juvenile crime is recognized as one of the most progressive developments in the evolution of criminal justice in the United States. Until the 20th century, no formal differentiation had been made between society's response to crimes committed by juveniles and its response to crimes committed by adults. Beginning in Illinois in 1899, juvenile court systems were instituted throughout the United States to place greater emphasis on the welfare and rehabilitation of youth in the justice system. Specialized detention centers, training schools, and youth centers were developed to confine and treat delinquent youth apart from adult offenders. These facilities were to provide a structured, rehabilitative environment in which the educational, psychological, and vocational needs of youthful offenders could be addressed. Although system crowding and funding shortfalls have frequently compromised achievement of these objectives, the goal of the juvenile court system has remained focused on protecting the welfare of youthful offenders.

This concept of a distinct justice system for juveniles focused upon treatment has come under attack in recent years. Beginning in the late 1980s, communities across the nation began to experience dramatically increased rates of juvenile crime. The arrest rate for violent crimes of both males and females began to increase in 1987 and continued to escalate until the mid-1990s. Although this trend appears to have reversed, rates of serious crimes committed by juveniles remain well above historical levels.

The increasing incidence and severity of crimes committed by juveniles led many to question the efficacy of the juvenile court system and to call for a harsher response to juvenile crime. Juvenile delinquency that results in serious offenses has come to be viewed as more a criminal problem than a behavioral problem, resulting in a shift in public response to the management of juvenile offenders. Researchers have noted this shift in trends toward more arrests, longer periods of incarceration, fewer opportunities for rehabilitation, and, most significantly, increases in the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system. 

Juveniles are increasingly placed in adult correctional facilities. Concerned that the juvenile justice system may be ill equipped to handle youth charged with serious crimes and that the juvenile court may be too lenient in its punishment and control of such youth, many states have begun amending their criminal codes so that youth charged with certain crimes can be tried in adult courts and sentenced as adults. 

Study Objectives

This report, Juveniles in Adult Prisons and Jails: A National Assessment, provides data that are critical for an effective response to the growing number of juveniles being housed in adult jails and prisons. This report documents the number of youth in adult facilities as of 1998, their demographic and offense characteristics, the legal and administrative processes by which such commitments are permitted, the issues faced by adult correctional systems in managing juveniles, and the conditions of juveniles confined in adult facilities.

Three major phases of work were associated with this report.

·          An analysis of recent legislative trends that statutorily require juveniles to be tried as adults and a survey of existing statutes and policies governing the transfer of juveniles to adult court were prepared.

·          A detailed census of juveniles in adult correctional facilities was conducted using federal statistical reporting programs and an extensive survey of federal, state, and local justice agencies.

·          Selected prisons and jails were visited to assess the accuracy of the survey results and to examine the conditions of confinement and access to programs.

Major Findings

This study represents the most thorough examination to date of the issues presented by youth who are incarcerated in adult facilities. The findings include the following:

·          Approximately 107,000 youth (younger than 18) are incarcerated on any given day.

·          Of these, approximately 14,500 are housed in adult facilities. The largest proportion, approximately 9,100 youth, are housed in local jails, and some 5,400 youth are housed in adult prisons.

·          Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 44 house juveniles (age 17 and younger) in adult jails and prisons.

·          In recent years, the number of youth in jails has escalated, while the number in prisons has stabilized or declined.

·          The actual number of youth who experience incarceration in an adult prison is much higher than the number shown by a 1-day count, with an estimated 13,876 juvenile state prison admissions in 1997. There are no current estimates of the number of youth admitted to jails each year.

·          In terms of their legal status while incarcerated, 21 percent were held as adjudicated juvenile offenders or pretrial detainees, and 75 percent were sentenced as adults.

·          Of the 44 state prison systems that house juveniles as adults, 18 states maintain designated youthful offender housing units.

·          In comparison with the adult prison population, a higher proportion of youth were black (55 percent of youthful inmates versus 48 percent of adult inmates) and were convicted of a crime against persons (57 percent of youth versus 44 percent of adult inmates).

·          The vast majority of these youth are age 17 (79 percent) or age 16 (18 percent).

·          Approximately 51 percent of the youthful offender population were housed in dormitory settings, 30 percent in single cells and 19 percent in double cells.

·          Health, education, and counseling programs were fairly standard, with little evidence of efforts to customize programs for youthful offenders. A few states operate programs specifically for the most difficult to manage juveniles.


Among the policy recommendations from this report, there are several areas in which the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) could address this issue through the provision of technical assistance programs that target the staff and administrators who manage juveniles in adult correctional settings. Among the key issues are the following:

·          Ensuring that classification instruments are valid for this subset of the adult correctional population and that risk and needs instruments reflect the maturation issues and special needs of the juvenile population.

·          Enhancing the expertise of security staff in managing a younger, more energetic, and more impulsive youthful offender and increasing their awareness of the potential for victimization of youth in adult facilities.

·          Developing specialized programs responsive to the developmental needs of youthful offenders. These include educational and vocational programs, sex offender and violent offender programs, and substance abuse programs that take into account the roles these issues play in adolescent development.

·          Ensuring that staff in facilities are aware of and adhere to federally mandated obligations to provide regular and special education services to youth in their care. Such a program could be developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education.

·          Expanding the array of nonviolent incident management techniques that are effective in deescalating volatile incidents involving youthful offenders.

·          Developing appropriate and effective incentives for program participation.

Given the relative newness of this issue and the dearth of knowledge surrounding the conditions, impact, and consequences of juvenile incarceration in adult facilities, additional research is required in the following areas: 

·          Full explication of the needs profiles of youthful offenders requiring educational services, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and medical services. These profiles could assist in the creation of developmentally appropriate programs and industry standards for adult facilities housing juveniles.

·          Assessment of different housing strategies such as the degree of separation from adult offenders, the special management required by dormitory settings, and the cost-effectiveness of these options given the small size of the youthful offender population.

·          Assessment of the impact of youthful offenders on adult prison populations and the development of strategies for minimizing the "contagiousness" of the volatility and impulsiveness that are common among youthful offenders.

 <Go To Chapter 1: introduction>   <Go Back To Table of Contents>

Terry Gorski and other member of the GORSKI-CENAPS Team are Available To Train & Consult On Areas Related To Addiction & Mental health
Gorski - CENAPS, 17900 Dixie Hwy, Homewood, IL 60430, 708-799-5000,,


Home - What's New - Site Map - Search Gorski's Site - Articles - Book Reviews

Mission & Vision - Training & Consultation Services - Publications - Links

Daily News Review  -  Addiction Databases  - Leading Addiction Websites

GORSKI-CENAPS Clinical Model --- Research-Based Best Practice Principles

Special Focus:  Mental Health, Substance Abuse, & Terrorism

Terry Gorski and Other Members of the GORSKI-CENAPS Team are Available To Train & Consult On Areas Related To Recovery, Relapse Prevention, & Relapse Early Intervention

Address: 6147 Deltona Blvd, Spring Hill, FL  34606;,,