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Juvenile Justice: Institutions - Effect Of Crowding On Conditions Of Confinement

study facilities juveniles coc

In 1988 the U.S. Congress directed the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the U.S. Justice Department to assess conditions of confinement for juveniles and to determine the extent to which those conditions conform to nationally recognized professional standards for juvenile institutions. This congressional mandate coincided with the rise in serious juvenile crime and a flurry of legislative activity in states to increase the severity of punishments for violent or habitual juvenile offenders. Many states, in response to particularly heinous crimes committed by juveniles, also enacted laws to make it easier to try and sentence juvenile offenders as adults.

The study of 984 public and private institutions throughout the country that included pretrial detention centers, training schools, ranches, camps, and farms was conducted between 1990 and 1992. The Conditions of Confinement (COC) Report, issued in 1993, found substantial and widespread deficiencies in four major areas of institutional life—living space, security, control of suicidal behavior, and health care (Parent et al.).

The COC study found that nearly 75 percent of the institutions were crowded in some respect. To eliminate crowding in the facilities, it was estimated that more than fourteen thousand juveniles would have to be removed from the population of confinement facilities, or an equal number of new beds added in adequately designed living areas of institutions. The report recommended that large dormitories be eliminated from juvenile facilities because of the ease of adding beds in excess of the design capacity to accommodate an influx of delinquent youths. The study also found a link between crowding of institutions and a higher rate of injuries to staff by juveniles and juvenile-on-juvenile injuries. The rates for short-term isolation of acting-out juveniles were higher in crowded facilities. Poor security practices also contributed to escapes and injuries in the facilities.

The study indicated suicidal behavior to be a serious problem in juvenile confinement facilities. Ten confined juveniles killed themselves in 1990 while the COC study was underway. The study estimated that more than eleven thousand individual juveniles engage in more than seventeen thousand incidents of suicide behavior in juvenile institutions each year. Approximately 75 percent of juveniles in confinement were screened upon admission for indicators of suicide risk, and a similar number were in facilities that train staff in suicide prevention.

In the area of health care for confined juveniles, the COC study reported a number of deficiencies that included failure to complete health screenings within the first hour after admission to a facility, and failure to perform a full health assessment within a week of admission. Additionally, one-third of juvenile screenings in pretrial detention centers were completed by staff who had not been trained by medical personnel to perform health screening.

One of the limitations of the COC study was its inability to determine the adequacy of education and treatment services because of a lack of systematic empirical data on confined youth's educational or treatment needs and problems.

The COC study tested the premise that facilities that conformed to nationally recognized standards of care such as the American Correctional Association Standards, which are used as the basis for accrediting juvenile training schools, and the American Bar Association/Institute for Judicial Administration Standards (1980) would result in improved conditions of confinement. Accredited institutions scored no better than nonaccredited facilities in important areas of operation, such as safety, security, education, treatment services, and health care. The COC study revealed the shortcoming of existing standards, which was their emphasis on written policies and procedures concerning aspects of facility operation rather than specifying measurable outcomes that ought to be achieved. A major recommendation in the final COC report called for the development and promulgation of performance-based standards in all aspects of institutional life that would serve both as goals for the facilities to attain and benchmarks against which their progress could be measured.

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almost 8 years ago

Juvenile Justice: Institutions - Effect Of Crowding On Conditions Of Confinement