After legislatures criminalized a major portion of juvenile delinquency in the 1980s and 1990s, large numbers of incarcerated youth began serving their sentences in adult correctional facilities. To understand the ramifications of this practice, prior research studies compared the correctional experiences of youth in juvenile and adult facilities. Yet this research often minimized the pains of imprisonment for youth in juvenile facilities, based on the contrast to adult facilities and the toxic conditions of confinement within them. In this Article, we contribute to this literature by analyzing data from interviews with 188 young men incarcerated in juvenile and adult facilities across two states. Surprisingly, our results show that although inmates in adult facilities give higher ratings of services and social climates than youth in juvenile facilities (including criminal activity and victimization), they fare much worse on other measures of social and psychological well-being. Importantly, the inmates in adult facilities report substantially and significantly greater rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and symptoms of mental illness, and are much more likely to be afraid for their safety, compared to those in juvenile facilities. Based on these results, we argue that incarceration should be used only as a last resort for juveniles, regardless of institutional auspice, but that when it is deemed necessary, juvenile correctional facilities represent the lesser of two evils.

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Presented at 2011 DFLSC Symposium on February 18, 2011

Video available at: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/dflsc_symposium/2011/events/2/

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