Examining the Planning, Design and Operational Components of Juvenile Detention

By Pilson, Thomas; Forstater, Jerry | Corrections Today, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Examining the Planning, Design and Operational Components of Juvenile Detention


Pilson, Thomas, Forstater, Jerry, Corrections Today


Juvenile detention centers and the juvenile care process are sometimes misunderstood by both the public and law enforcement. Mixing in the emotions of upset, or even combative, parents and guardians alters what seems a straightforward process into significant challenges for facility professionals. To add to the confusion, it is not surprising when the authority having custodial jurisdiction changes from venue to venue; it may be under the courts, children and human services, health and human services, or sometimes the sheriff. Regardless of the differing jurisdictions, the facilities are common in structure, though changing with time. A detention facility is much smaller than a correctional or jail facility, having fewer than 20 to 30 occupants (1) or generally having fewer than 100 occupants for a shared county facility, as opposed to as many as 200 to 500 in a larger state correctional facility for sentenced juvenile offenders. (2) Depending on jurisdictional approaches and attitudes, these smaller institutions are generally called detention facilities, as opposed to youth facilities, training facilities or youth correctional facilities.

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Juvenile Detention Centers and the Law

Correctional practitioners have an even more definitive role in holding juvenile defendants since the jurisdictional and court requirements for processing youths is sometimes more complex than that of adult processing. This is due to the options offered to those under 18 who can benefit from alternative court recommendations. The status of being a youth presents challenges for even pursuing detention. While infrequent, law enforcement sometimes perceives that the destruction of property warrants presenting a youth to a juvenile detention facility. This is due to greater emphasis on a "zero tolerance policy" extending into law enforcement. However, this generally is not true. In many states, the facility can only turn law enforcement away due to the strict requirements of how, when and under what premise a youth can be held.

The daily operations of juvenile detention centers are well-regulated at the state and local levels. For example, Pennsylvania is primarily based on the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's Title 55, Chapter 3800 regulation. This regulation, enacted in October 1999, sets minimum-mandatory practice, procedure and facility accommodations for the daily operation of detention centers and the treatment of youths detained in Pennsylvania County detention centers.

Juvenile detention centers in Pennsylvania are a temporary holding facility for children who are adjudicated of a felony; they are awaiting either trial or placement in a program that will better handle their individual needs. The average length of stay for a youth at a Pennsylvania juvenile detention center is approximately 17 days. This time will vary from case to case because juveniles are charged with crimes that range from terrorist threats to other various violent crimes. State facilities, or state-monitored facilities, often handle the sentenced offender for longer periods. This is true in New Jersey, Kentucky and Connecticut.

Similarities And Differences

In corrections terminology, a sentenced offender is often referred to as an inmate. In juvenile detention facilities, the youths are referred to as residents, and may be sentenced, unsentenced or presented for protective custody. The offenders themselves present a diverse group and effuse emotional overtones in civil society. Some of the authors' personal and most vivid differences are characterized by seeing a 14-year-olds' outstretched fingers under a cell door, perhaps looking for love, and a 4-foot, 9-year-old child in hand and foot shackles after court transport due to risk of flight. Stories of young males scaling perimeter fences and bolting from custody are common due to youth size, agility and energy. Often, undisciplined or gang-aligned individuals make control more necessary and much more critical for effective facility operation. …

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