How Being Locked Up in Juvenile Detention Centers Shapes Kids’ Lives

Posted: June 22, 2011 in At-risk kids, Juvenile Justice, Minors in Adult Jails
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What is it really like for kids to locked up in some kind of juvenile detention center, or worse yet a prison? What effect does it have on their emotional, psychological and spiritual lives? How does it shape their personalities, not only in obvious ways but in ways that have a lasting impact?

It seems to me that little thought is given to this concern by the people who clamber for tougher consequences for “trouble-making kids” and by the pundits who make the laws to answer the public’s demands. I’ve actually heard  people I thought would have at least given the question some consideration, at least a pause, state, “They deserve to be locked up!”  Fear is a powerful force in shaping our juvenile justice policy. “Those kids” frighten us, threaten us so put them away.

I know that locking kids up in places that can do real life harm is not the answer. And a place to begin to understand why that is is to listen to the voices of young people who have been in those places. One such voice, elegant and powerful, is Andrew Petterman’s piece “Learning to Be Tough in Juvenile Detention” posted on Reclaiming Futures. It is worth the read. You can also hear an interview with Andrew Petterman at the same link.

  1. amilcook says:

    There is a tremendous long term impact on the lives of the young people incarcerated or placed in institutions. As stated in the film “Incarceration or Education” youth in the juvenile justice system are seven times more likely to eventually be involved in the criminal justice system. These statistics are not the result of genetics but they result from emotional, psychological and physical harm done to these young people while they are coming of age in institutions. Labeling theory informs us that when young people are identified as ‘delinquents’ and ‘criminals’ they begin to internalize these messages and start to view themselves in this light. This impacts their future decision making processes, allowing them to engage in more risk taking behaviors, since after all, they are ‘delinquent.’ I often interact with youth who have been to numerous juvenile placements and they get characterized as being ‘placement smart’ or ‘institutionalized.’ This ambiguous term means that this young person has lost their identity outside of the justice system. They learn how to become compliant and manipulative in the context of their institution. They have been stripped of experiencing normal adolescent rights of passage. They get diagnosed with mental health disorders that served to further negatively label them. Our nation’s institutions that serve these populations of youth need to begin to adopt values akin to functioning families and successful educational institutions that recognize that we have a vested interest in these youth succeeding and overcoming their mistakes and life circumstances.

    I recently met one young man who was about 17 and was charged with armed robbery. He was housed in a county jail for 5 months, only to have the charges eventually dropped. He struggled to discuss his experience in county jail. He did explain that he witnessed people being stabbed and that he refuse to leave his room out of fear. It was clear to me that this young man’s time in county jail was a traumatic experience for him. However, in order to survive it and maintain some self dignity the young man had to deny his feelings and maintain a tough facade. What kinds of emotional, psychological and possible physical scars will this young man have to carry? Changing this type of experience needs to be a priority for our courts and society.

  2. Sorry to hear the horor story’s I guess life is NOT so good anywhere we may be! Have u personally tried living or raising “these”juvenile children they can be hell-raisers disrespectful ou of control and defiant ! Things are not like the good old days when children were aloud to be spanked not beat but I repeat spanked. ?.maybe that’s what’s wrong with these kid’s today and why they have gotten so outta control. Therapy seems to be a joke for my son he claims it’s their job and that’s what they getpaid for! Wow coming from a 10yr old..he has NO rremorse for his actions @ punishment to him is a joke. So what is one to do…? HELP

  3. I have helped raised a handful of kid’s in the past n am raising my cousins 10yr old son who swears he’s grown he’s more than a challenge and their r days I just wanna throw my hands up n just give up, its overwhelming ! Do I let this child hit, kick, bite, n keep attacking me or do I send him to juvenile detention cntr. ? I love him dearly he is my blood n wud give enything to help him as I been but my health as well his has to be protected…he does attack himself in anger…heeeeellllppppp

    • David Chura says:

      Taking care of children, giving them what nobody else is giving them is a wonderful thing to do. I am sure that you have made a difference in many children’s’ lives. Yet you have to take care of yourself as well. That doesn’t mean not caring for your cousin’s 10 year old son but rather doing it and getting help doing it especially since he sounds like a very needy boy. There are places and organizations and individuals who can give you, and give him extra support. A good place to start is his school counselor. A counselor’s job is to help caregivers raising kids the help they need. There are many steps in helping a young man like your 10 year old. Juvenile detention is only for extreme cases; it’s the last step. Before you get to that stage please seek help locally, perhaps a clergy member, a counselor at a Y or a Boys and Girls Club. You can’t do it alone. It’s not fair to you or to the 10 year old.

  4. Emily Grace says:

    I ended up in foster care after years of abuse that left me with a brain injury and emotional problems. A year after entering foster care I ended up in a youth detention centre for assaulting a staff member and then three more times for breaching probation because I ran away. Eventually they stuck me in a “treatment centre” and said I was crazy. For a year and half i was locked in a concrete cell, they would turn the lights off because they knew I was afraid of the dark. Grown men cut my clothes off me and they drugged me half to death! After a year and half I had gained well over 100lbs, I was a fat drooling mess afraid of my own shadow, they decided I had improved enough to be released and I was terrified. I hated that place but I needed that place so I made false allegations against myself for different crimes but the police didn’t buy it and I was returned to child services and placed in a group home. It has been more then 10 years since I was tossed on the street by child services after aging out and I am still a mess, I am afraid to leave my apartment, I don’t trust anyone, I still am afraid of the dark, I have no education, no family, no friends, no social skills, no life skills. They convinced me that I was bad and that I was crazy and instead of getting me rehab for the brain injury they caused me several more, they tortured me for years and I don’t know how to get over it and I am haunted by the hell they put me through. My assault against the staff member was ruled self defense but even so I have paid with my life.

    • David Chura says:

      Thanks for your brave and heartfelt comment. It takes courage to continue to sort out your life the way you are. I hope there are positive people who can help you in your struggles.

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