States Alter System to Comply With Youthful Inmate Standard

Massachusetts and Illinois are altering their juvenile justice and adult corrections departments in order to comply with the Youthful Inmate Standard of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently signed into law a bill that takes 17-year-old offenders out of the adult court track and justice system and into the juvenile justice system. In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is developing a three-member panel to bring the department into compliance with PREA. The IDJJ will also focus on staff training to identify and report sexual abuse and will provide youth inmates with more resources to report abuse, such as a dedicated hotline.

The standard has three requirements: no youthful inmate may be placed in a housing unit where they will have contact with an adult inmate via a day room, common space, shower area or sleeping quarters; agencies must maintain “sight and sound separation,” in which adults cannot hear or see youthful inmates or provide direct supervision when adult and minor inmates are together; and finally, agencies must make their best effort to avoid the isolation of youthful inmates.

According to Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard is one step closer to completely removing youth inmates from the adult detention system.

This move requires the cooperation of several jurisdictions including sheriffs, corrections officials and juvenile correctional officials, Ryan said.

Research and several organizations have shown that placing youth inmates into adult detention centers is harmful for the youth inmates and youth inmates are one of the most at-risk populations for assault and abuse in adult correctional facilities, Ryan said. She added that children who are in the adult justice system are also more likely to reoffend than children placed in the juvenile justice system.

Ultimately, youth justice advocates believe that the Youthful Inmate Standard may raise the age of criminality.

“We know from the research that it contributes to recidivism, which is something that all of us in the juvenile justice stakeholder community know needs to come down,” Ryan said.