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Chapter 5
Classification Systems
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
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

The traditional classification instruments developed for and used with adult correctional populations do not take into account the special needs or the maturation issues presented by youthful offenders. Prison classification systems have been developed and validated on adult male populations and are not sensitive to the unique attributes and behaviors of youthful populations. These classification systems consist of both external and internal models. 

External classification systems are used to determine whether an inmate should be placed in the general population or assigned to a special management unit. The latter consists of protective custody, administrative segregation, mental health, and medical care units. The former results in a designation of minimum, medium, close, or maximum custody. Assessments are also made on the types of programs or treatment services the inmate should participate in. Based on the custody and program/treatment needs, a determination is made on the most appropriate facility to which to transfer the inmate.

One suggestion is for adult correctional systems either to use classification systems that have been developed by the state's juvenile correctional agency or to develop their own system to be used for youth committed to their care. Such a classification system should be capable of assessing each youth with respect to their risk to public safety, institutional conduct, and specific program needs in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, education, vocational training, and medical care. 

In addition to this type of an external classification assessment, an internal classification system needs to be established for each facility that houses these youth to ensure youthful offenders are not improperly housed with adult inmates. Such an internal system would consist of a plan that limits the housing units into which a youthful offender can be placed and the types of programs in which a youthful offender can participate within that facility. 

Staff and Staff Training 

The need for meaningful training of adult security staff on techniques for managing youthful offenders was apparent during most of the site visits. Typically, security staff are oriented and trained to deal with adult inmates. Training should prepare staff to recognize and respond to the particular issues faced by a juvenile offender housed in an adult prison, such as the potential for victimization, the emotional effect of incarceration on younger populations, and the way in which substance abuse, education, health, and mental health needs are manifested among younger offenders. This training would be particularly useful for states that have facilities designated for youthful offenders.

Along these lines, it is recommended that adult facilities that house youthful offenders be staffed with people experienced in working in juvenile facilities. These staff are more accustomed to the nonconfrontational methods used to control youth that rely less on use of force techniques and more on peaceful conflict resolution.

Staff in adult facilities are trained to respond to disruptive and confrontational adult offenders. The use of chemical agents such as mace or pepper spray, forced cell extractions, physical restraints, and special response teams, although typically effective with adult offenders, may not be appropriate for juvenile populations. Most juvenile correctional systems discourage the use of such techniques as viable methods of controlling youth except in the most extreme situations, and even then only when lesser measures have been exhausted. Physical handling of a youth is permitted only when other measures, such a counseling and crisis intervention techniques, have failed. For such instances, officers are trained on a myriad of other measures such as empty-hand control tactics, which include various holds, leverage, pressure, self-defense measures, and pressure control techniques.

Adult facilities require assistance and training in devising such techniques that do not rely upon a massive use of force yet are effective in deescalating volatile incidents involving youthful offenders.


The surveys indicated a deficit in specialized programming for youthful offenders. In some cases, programming such as violence interruption or sex offender treatment is not available. In most others, existing programming was designed to respond to these issues as manifested in the typical adult offender and lacked a more developmentally responsive adaptation of the curricula. Although this situation may be driven by the relatively small number of juveniles in most adult facilities, the lack of appropriate programming for youth in adult facilities remains a major shortcoming in the management of these offenders. 


In addition to special management and programming needs, youthful offenders need educational programming that is more structured, thorough, and intensive than that provided in adult institutions. It is important to ensure that facilities are both aware of and adhering to federal mandates to provide regular and special education services to youth in their care.

Incarcerated youth are required to receive regular, special, and vocational education services in accordance with the state law for public schools, the rules and regulations of the state board of education, and the regulations of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

All youth should be offered an average of 5.5 hours of daily instruction, 5 days a week, by qualified teachers, in an environment that facilitates learning. Additionally, youth ought to be assigned to grade levels with curricula that are in accordance with their educational level, and they should receive academic credit for their educational achievements.

Facilities should offer GED preparation and testing to qualified prison inmates and juveniles confined in jails for at least 6 months. Youth who are in disciplinary isolation or are otherwise unable to attend school for a significant period of time must be provided with a reasonable level of education services.

Federal regulations through IDEA guarantees special education services to juveniles (up to age 21) in adult facilities as a constitutional right. Although there are no national figures on the number of special education youth who are incarcerated, it is estimated at between 30 and 50 percent require this service. A recent study by Leone and Meisel (2000) on the proportion of special education youth incarcerated in Arizona, Florida, and Maine indicates that between 42 and 60 percent of the juvenile populations are classified as special education. This estimate shows the importance of ensuring that adequate special education services are available to those juveniles who are incarcerated. Proper identification of youth with special education needs, exposure to special education curriculum, and teachers certified as special education instructors should be available to juveniles in adult prisons as well as those in juveniles facilities. Training and technical assistance programs could be developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education or the state's education system.

Behavior Management Techniques

The popularity of "get tough" approaches to managing offenders, particularly military models, need to be evaluated for their effectiveness for youthful offenders. Further, security staff would benefit from the development of methods to provide incentives for good behavior and for increasing the level of engagement of the youthful offender populations with the available programming. Here again, most juvenile correctional systems have implemented a variety of positive management programs that allow youth to receive increasing levels of privileges based on good behavior. Such initiatives have proved to be effective methods for managing juvenile populations. Yet, adult correctional systems rarely use or have any experience with such systems. 

Housing Strategies

Many jurisdictions would benefit from an assessment of the type of housing that is most effective for managing this population. For example, the cost and benefits of separating youthful offenders from adult offenders should be examined. Given their relatively small numbers, cost-effective options for this type of separation should be developed. Because most youthful offenders are managed in dormitory facilities, the specific management issues relevant to this housing arrangement should be fully explicated.

Given that the volatility and impulsiveness that typically underlies a juvenile's presence in an adult facility can be contagious, correctional systems would benefit from technical assistance focused on strategies for mitigating these situations. Further, best practices associated with appropriate interaction between juvenile and adult offender populations would help increase institutional stability.

Continued Research

Finally, given the relative newness of this issue and the lack of knowledge surrounding the conditions, impact, and consequences of juvenile incarceration in adult facilities, additional research is required. In particular, research is needed to better understand the basis for the decision to place a youth in an adult correctional facility. We also need to learn whether placement in an adult facility has an adverse impact on the conditions of incarceration. Comparative studies are required on the provision of education and vocational services, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and medical needs as well as protection from harm in juvenile and adult facilities. Such comparative studies will help determine the value of housing youth in adult prisons and jails. If such placements are required by law, adult facilities must know how to create appropriate program offerings and standards of care for youth placed in their care for substantial periods of time. 

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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