Characteristics of Juveniles
Housed in Adult Jails and Prisons
Juveniles in Adult Prisons and Jails.
A National Assessment
By James Austin Ph.D.
Kelly Dedel Johnson, Ph.D.
Maria Gregoriou, M.A.
GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
Published On: June 10,
2001 Updated On: August 07, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001
current and accurate enumeration of juveniles confined in adult prisons
and jails is essential to understand the issue of youth in adult
facilities. Data on youthful offenders in national reports were not
sufficiently complete or comprehensive to achieve the level of detail
required for this study. Consequently, a comprehensive national survey
of adult jail and prison systems was required.
survey instruments were developed to obtain data on youthful offenders,
one for adult state prison systems and one for state and local adult
correctional facilities. Both surveys were modeled after the Bureau of
Justice Statistics correctional facility surveys. The most critical
assumption in developing the surveys was a precise definition of a
youthful offender. For these surveys, a "youthful
offender" was defined as a person age 17 or younger. In
most states, 18-year-old offenders are considered adults and are
normally tried in adult court. By focusing on the population age 17 and
younger, the surveys concentrated on offenders generally considered
juveniles and whose presence in adult correctional facilities was
purpose of the correctional system-level survey was to collect data on
the number and characteristics of all youthful offenders incarcerated in
a state's prison system, as well as to compare these characteristics
with those of the adult offenders incarcerated in the system. The survey
collected data on the custodial status of the juvenile residential
population, housing patterns, offense background, race/ethnicity, age,
length of stay, disciplinary actions, programs, litigation, health
services, and capacity.
facility-level survey was intended to provide specific information on
the actual conditions of confinement in prisons and data about some of
the large jail systems. This survey asked questions about facility
characteristics, housing patterns, offense history, race/ethnicity, age,
length of stay, disciplinary actions, programs, litigation, and health
services. Although the facility survey addresses many of the issues
identified in the system survey, it is designed to give a better sense
of the "fit" between the youth and the adults in these
the system- and facility-level surveys were sent to each state prison
system, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and 19 jail systems. The selected
jails included all the major metropolitan jail systems and a sample of
small and medium-size jails throughout the country. In total, 70 surveys
were distributed. Surveys were mailed in September 1998, and a followup
survey was mailed in January 1999. Participating state and local systems
were instructed to complete the system-level survey and disseminate the
facility-level survey to any facilities in their jurisdiction that
housed youthful offenders. The number of participants in the
facility-level survey was dependent on the number of adult facilities
identified by jurisdictions as housing juveniles, the number of such
facilities to which the jurisdictions mailed the facility survey, and
the willingness of these particular facilities to respond to the survey.
50 states, 3 of the 19 jail systems (Los Angeles County, New York City,
and Philadelphia), and the District of Columbia responded to the
system-level survey, and 196 correctional agencies responded to the
facility-level survey. Despite efforts to solicit their participation,
the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other selected jail systems refused to
take part in this research. Consequently, these results are not
representative of the total population of juveniles in adult
Findings: Correctional System Survey
state adult correctional systems house youthful offenders. Of the 54
jurisdictions responding, 87 percent housed incarcerated juveniles. In
terms of the legal status of incarcerated juveniles, 96 percent of the
reported youthful offender population fell into two major categories: 23
percent were held as adjudicated juvenile offenders or pretrial
detainees, and 75 percent were sentenced as adults.
objectives of the survey were to identify the characteristics of youth
currently held in adult correctional facilities and to compare the
characteristics of the youthful offender population with those of adult
offenders held in the same facilities. These data provided information
on the types of youth who were incarcerated in adult facilities and
their similarities to the adult population housed in these facilities.
total adult correctional system capacity identified by survey
respondents was 826,289 beds. Of the respondents, 46 percent maintained
housing designated for youthful offenders. The capacity of these units
for youthful offenders totaled 6,708 beds or less than 1 percent of the
overall system capacity identified by the respondents.
states and the District of Columbia indicated that they maintained
separate housing specifically for youthful offenders (table 4). The
presence of separate housing for youthful offenders does not necessarily
mean that all youthful offenders were housed in these separate
facilities. States with large youthful offender populations, by
necessity, often housed youthful offenders with the adult population
when their housing capacity for youth was exceeded. Although a
significant number of states maintained separate housing for youthful
offenders, their definition of a "youthful" offender was
frequently more expansive than the definition used here. In Florida, for
example, youthful offenders from the ages of 14 to 24 were provided with
dedicated housing and programs.
number of youthful offenders in each system surveyed is presented in
table 5, along with data on the reported number of adult offenders in
these systems. The total adult residential population identified by the
survey was 1,069,244 offenders in 1998. The youthful offender population
totaled 4,775 or 0.5 percent of the total population. For these same
respondents, the average system population for calendar year 1997 was
937,460 offenders, with an average youthful offender population of
4,078, again roughly 0.5 percent of the total population. The total
average female youthful offender population for all reporting systems
was 158 offenders, which is approximately 3.3 percent of the entire
youthful offender population in adult facilities. This proportion of
female offenders is somewhat lower than that reported for adult female
offenders. Survey respondents indicated that adult female offenders
constituted approximately 6 percent of the total adult offender
population. Approximately 22 percent of the systems surveyed were
planning to expand their youthful offender capacity (table 6).
indicated in table 7, approximately 51 percent of the youthful offender
population were housed in dormitory settings. Youth in single cells
accounted for 30 percent of all housing assignments, whereas 19 percent
of the youth population were housed in double cells. By comparison, 43
percent of adults were housed in dormitories, 22 percent in single
cells, and 35 percent in double cells. Youthful offenders were much more
likely to be housed in either a dormitory or a single cell, and a double
cell was much more prevalent for adult offenders.
profile of youthful offenders in adult facilities shows the predominance
of youth convicted of crimes against persons (table 7). Fifty-seven
percent of all youthful offenders were being held for an offense against
a person, compared with 44 percent of the adult inmate population.
Property offenders made up 21 percent of the youthful offender
population and 20 percent of the adult population. Juveniles in adult
facilities were less likely to be held for drug-related offenses than
their adult counterparts (10 percent and 20 percent, respectively). The
remaining major distinction between the offense profiles of the adult
and youthful offender populations was the presence of a significant
number of parole/probation violators in the adult population.
Respondents reported that 8 percent of the adult offender population
were parole/probation violators, compared with only 2 percent of the
youthful offender population.
data suggest that the perception that youthful offenders are being
transferred to adult correctional systems for more serious offenses is
largely accurate. Violent offenders made up a substantially higher
--proportion of the youthful offender population in adult facilities
than were present in the adult offender population. Although some
research indicates that the majority of juvenile transfer cases involve
nonviolent, less serious offenses, these data suggest that the justice
system draws appropriate distinctions in determining the types of
youthful offenders who are sent to adult correctional facilities.
terms of race/ethnicity, 55 percent of the youthful offender population
was black, compared with 48 percent of the adult offender population
(table 7). The proportion of the youthful and adult population with a
Hispanic background was 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Approximately 26 percent of the youthful offenders were white, compared
with 35 percent of the adult population. These data suggest that the
concerns expressed regarding the overrepresentation of minority youth
among juvenile offenders in adult facilities have some basis, at least
with regard to black males.
age distribution of the youthful offender population was heavily skewed
toward 17-year-olds (table 8). Approximately 78 percent of the reported
youthful offender population was 17, with another 18 percent in the
16-year-old category. In a number of states such as Illinois, Michigan,
and New York, 17-year-olds are considered adults. Accordingly, the
presence of 17-year-old offenders in these states' populations does not
necessarily reflect a policy of juvenile transfer, but simply a function
of the normal prosecution of adult offenders. Few offenders were below
the age of 16 in adult correctional facilities. The youngest reported
age of a youthful offender in an adult facility was 13 years.
the course of a year, the number of youth experiencing some form of
incarceration in an adult facility is much higher than the number shown
by a 1-day count. Respondents reported 13,876 youthful offender
admissions to adult correctional facilities in 1997 (table 9). Not all
jurisdictions reported release data; those that did reported 7,886 releases in 1997.
The average length of stay for youthful offenders was 106 days for
female offenders and 231 days for male offenders. These data are for
youth who completed their time served, so they understate the actual
length of stay for the youthful offender population by excluding more
serious offenders with long-term sentences.
program offerings of the adult systems were fairly consistent, focusing
on education and basic counseling services. As shown in table 10, most
respondents offered formal elementary and secondary education programs,
special education, general equivalency diploma (GED) preparation,
individual counseling, and psychological/psychiatric treatment. In
addition, 85 percent offered vocational programs, 50 percent offered
college courses, 81 percent offered AIDS prevention counseling, and 84
percent offered health/nutrition programs. Only 56 percent offered
substance abuse treatment, 26 percent offered sex offender treatment,
and 40 percent offered youth violent offender treatment.
services offered to youthful offenders were also fairly consistent. All
respondents offered initial health screenings conducted by licensed
personnel. Doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and mental health
personnel were available in most systems on a daily basis.
Findings: Facility Survey
confinement conditions represent critical issues for both correctional
managers and youth advocates. To better understand the conditions under
which youthful offenders are being incarcerated, this section examines
data from surveys of adult facilities that housed youthful offenders.
state and local correctional system participating in the survey was sent
separate surveys for each facility under its jurisdiction that housed
youthful offenders. In total, data were collected from 196 adult
institutions that housed youthful offenders. However, 15 of these
surveys were excluded from the final analysis because they were returned
with significant amounts of missing information.
the 181 adult facilities that responded to the survey, 148, or 82
percent, were adult prisons (table 11). The majority of these
institutions, 74 percent, were either medium- or maximum-security
institutions. The predominance of higher security facilities appears to
be associated with the offense profile of this population, which, as
noted earlier, was heavily weighted toward serious violent offenses.
Forty-two percent of the institutions were located in small cities,
suburbs, or rural areas, following the typical profile of adult prisons.
Only 11 percent were located in large cities.
the facilities that responded to the survey, only 13 percent maintained
separate facilities or units for youthful offenders. By far the more
common practice appeared to be that no differentiation was made between
adult and juvenile housing units. This finding is perhaps not surprising
when viewed in the context of the rationales for moving youth to adult
correctional facilities-the increasing severity of their crimes, the
failure of rehabilitation, and the difficulty experienced in managing
age of the facilities housing youthful offenders ranged from new to 163
years old. More than 25 percent of the facilities were opened before
1965. Another 50 percent were opened between 1965 and 1987. The
remaining 25 percent have been open since 1987. The median age of these
facilities was 20 years.
with the operating practices of most adult correctional facilities, 98
percent of the facilities surveyed did not permit community access for
youthful offenders. This situation reflects the predominance of medium-
and maximum-security prisons in the survey and may be more indicative of
the serious nature of the offenses for which these youth have been
incarcerated than of a lack of appropriate programming for youthful
offenders. Lack of community access may also result from the largely
rural locations of many adult correctional facilities.
housing of juveniles in adult facilities is more frequent than ever
before. Most state adult correctional systems house youthful offenders. Of
the 54 jurisdictions responding (50 prisons and 4 jails), 87 percent
housed incarcerated juveniles. In terms of their status while
incarcerated, 96 percent of the reported youthful offender population fell
into two categories: 23 percent were held as adjudicated juvenile
offenders or pretrial detainees (mostly in the jails that responded to the
survey) and 77 percent were sentenced as adults and housed in state
constitute an extremely small proportion of offenders in the nation's
prison system. At the time of this survey, there were 1,069,244 inmates in
state prisons but only 4,775, (or 0.5 percent) were under age 18.
reported 13,876 youthful offender admissions to adult correctional
facilities in 1997. The total average female youthful offender population
for all reporting systems was only 843 offenders (table 9).
age distribution of the youthful offender population was heavily skewed
toward 17-year-olds. Approximately 78 percent of the reported youthful
offender population was age 17, with another 18 percent in the 16-year-old
offenders are housed primarily in medium- or maximum-security facilities.
Of the institutions surveyed, 42 percent were located in small cities,
suburbs, or rural areas, again following the typical profile of adult
prisons. Only 11 percent were located in the large cities. Of the
facilities that responded to the survey, only 13 percent maintained
separate facilities or units for youthful offenders. The more common
practice appears to be that no differentiation is made in housing for
youthful offenders in adult facilities.
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This document was
prepared by the Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections and the
National Council on Crime and Delinquency, under grant number
97-DD-BX-0026, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of
Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings,
and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this document are those
of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or
policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Bureau of Justice
Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also
includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute
of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,
and the Office for Victims of Crime.
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