Failings of youth incarceration

The Sentencing Project held a webinar to discuss the problems of youth incarceration

In the face of increased pretrial detention in The District of Columbia, a D.C. based think tank and advocacy organization hosted a webinar focused on why youth incarceration fails both kids incarcerated and the community surrounding them. The Sentencing Project, as described by Josh Rovner,  director of youth justice, is an organization which “advocates for effective and humane responses to crime to, that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic and economic and gender justice.”

The speakers were Luis Ahmadi, from the Credible Messengers Mentoring Movement, as well as an employee of the D.C Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services; Richard Mendel, the Senior Fellow of The Sentencing Project; Tawaina Reed, the Program Director of the Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc; Karemma Williams, a YAP alumni, and life coach. It was moderated by Josh Rovner. 

The seminar began on a positive note with Rovner sharing news about a general decline in youth incarceration as well as a decline in youth tried as adults. He emphasized that efforts addressing the issue have created tangible positive results. 

Mendel highlighted the six essential failing of youth incarceration. 

  • Youth who are incarcerated are more likely to reoffend than youth who aren’t, proving that juvenile incarceration doesn’t reduce delinquent conduct.
  •  Youth incarceration damages the potential for future successes and the overall well being of the individuals that experience the process. 
  • Juvenile detention facilities are often dangerous and abusive. 
  • Unequal policing leads to disproportionate contact and incarceration of  youth of color.
  • Incarceration conflicts with healthy adolescent development. 
  • Youth incarceration exacerbates the trauma that led people into the system.

These failings and more reasons for the failures of the youth incarceration system are further elaborated in a paper published by the sentencing project on March 1, 2023.

The speakers shared their stories and experiences working with youth and what they found to be important. Kareema was part of a second chance program for juvenile offenders and Tawaina was assigned as her mentor. 

Kareema began the program exhibiting low self esteem, and she suffered from bullying and other issues. While in juvenile detention she felt unsafe and like she didn’t belong there. Her experiences had made her closed off and trust was hard to achieve. With Tawaina she found support outside of her family, someone who was there to guide her and show her a positive path. Even when she left the program she still kept in contact with Tawaina and referred to her as a mother figure. Kareema is grateful to have experienced this, and it led her down a more positive path. Their story shows an important point: that youth need support. The webinar said that support and opportunities for growth are more effective than punitive measures such as incarceration which debilitates youth’s abilities to be effective members of society.

You can watch the webinar Here


Our Latest

More Voices of Justice To Come
handcuffed hands of man in orange jump suit

As D.C. city council increases pretrial detention, a bill to eliminate solitary confinement in detention is trying to pass, yet again

Former Councilmember Mary Cheh proposed measures to further prohibit solitary confinement twice prior to the 2022 introduction of the ERASE bill, but none succeeded. Measures including the Inmate Segregation Reduction Act of 2017. Because the DOC denies its use of solitary confinement, there are concerns that the isolated confinement is not monitored or recorded.


Can ‘Gunderstanding’ help fight youth violence in D.C.?

An interview with The T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project founder, Tia Bell, a gun violence prevention organization in Washington, D.C. that provides support to young people. The organization’s mission is to “denormalize and destigmatize gun violence in communities of color across the nation.”

More Voices of Justice To Come
+ posts

Rita Ighekpe is a current Junior attending Towson University, where she is double majoring in sociology and political science. She is the fundraising chair of the Towson Naturalistas and a member of the Student Environmental Organization. Her interest in criminal justice began in highschool, where she was an International Baccalaureate student and a member of the Model United Nations as well as Speech and Debate. Her involvement in these organizations broadened her knowledge on law and policy and resulted in her aspirations to work with the law.