Youth Incarceration, Health, and Length of Stay

By Gonzalez, Thalia | Fordham Urban Law Journal, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Youth Incarceration, Health, and Length of Stay


Gonzalez, Thalia, Fordham Urban Law Journal


TABLE OF CONTENTS  Introduction                                                 46 I. The Health Status of At-Risk and System-Involved Youth    55   A. Prior to Incarceration                                  55     1. Adverse Childhood Experiences                         55     2. Health and Mental Health                              59     3. Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder             60     4. Poverty                                               62   B. The Effects of Incarceration: Compounding Existing      Trauma and Health Disparities                           62     1. Inadequate Treatment During Incarceration             62     2. The Compounding Effects of Incarceration              64     3. The "Dose Measure" of Youth Incarceration             66 II. Sentencing, Release Decision-Making, and Length of Stay  67   A. Typologies of Juvenile Justice Sentencing               68   B. Sentencing Reform                                       70   C. Release Determinations and Length of Stay               72   D. The Current Trend: Excessive Lengths of Stay            75 Conclusion                                                   80 

INTRODUCTION

Length of stay is a pressing civil and human rights issue at the intersection of juvenile justice and health policy. As research shows, the effects of incarceration during adolescence or young adulthood ("youth incarceration") are associated with damaged social networks, (1) decreased educational opportunities, (2) severe functional limitations, (3) and worsened health and mental health outcomes. (4) Over the last decade, juvenile justice reform has focused on reducing entry into the system with the goal of decreasing the overall population of youth in confinement. (5) In some states, policy makers have adopted a top down approach, introducing changes such as increased access to and eligibility for restorative justice, (6) reduced bed caps, (7) fiscal incentives for community based services, (8) and improved inter-agency collaboration by forming commissions or task forces. (9) In other states, less restrictive responses to delinquency (10) and the closure of juvenile facilities have reduced the overall population. (11) Regardless of the individualized approach taken in a given jurisdiction, from 2003 to 2013, national rates of juvenile detention decreased by forty-seven percent. (12)

Despite a growing emphasis on alternatives to detention and the reductions in rates of national youth detention achieved to date, the United States continues to incarcerate youth, in particular marginalized youth of color, (13) at higher rates than anywhere in the world. (14) For example, the most recent Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention ("OJJDP") data indicate that nationally, African American youth are more than four times as likely to be confined as their white peers. (15) Similar disparities exist for Latino (16) and American Indian youth. (17) Simply put, numerous studies show that youth of color are arrested and charged at higher rates than their white counterparts, (18) thus moving them swiftly into the juvenile justice system. (19) Once system-involved, youth of color are detained for longer periods of time (20) than their white peers. (21) While youth of color experience the clearest disproportionate treatment at the arrest and detention stages, this race-based disproportionality endures throughout all stages of incarceration. (22)

Entry into the juvenile justice system for these youth, the majority of whom live in urban communities, does not happen in isolation. Instead, the pathway to incarceration occurs against a backdrop of heightened surveillance, punishment, and criminalization. (23) Further, as discussed below, (24) marginalized youth and youth of color also tend to experience high levels of stress, (25) complex trauma, (26) and adverse childhood experiences. (27) Moreover, for youth exposed to high rates of community violence, (28) such exposure may amplify the cumulative negative influences of early-life adversities on their physical and mental health in adulthood. …

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