On New Year's Day, 1996, the American Bar Association (ABA) Juvenile Justice Center released a report entitled A Call for Justice: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings. The report revealed significant deficiencies in both the access to and quality of representation juveniles receive as they move through the juvenile court process. The report identified some major "sore spots" where the absence or ineffectiveness of attorneys was particularly acute. Two areas of significant concern centered around detention advocacy (at the front part of the juvenile court system) and postcommitment advocacy (at the end of the system). Building upon the findings in A Call for Justice, the Juvenile Justice Center, in partnership with many advocates and colleagues, has prepared this handbook of ideas to stimulate discussion about ways juvenile justice professionals can improve conditions of confinement for detained and incarcerated youth.
Forty-seven of the fifty States and the District of Columbia have substantially changed their juvenile justice laws in recent years to include more transfers of youth to adult court, more mandatory minimum sentences, and more incarceration, all of which have exacerbated the unlawful conditions found in many facilities where youth are held. These increasingly overcrowded and significantly deficient facilities hold disproportionate numbers of nonwhite youth for nonviolent property and drug crimes. It is imperative that juvenile justice advocates explore new and underutilized approaches to safeguarding the rights of children in secure detention.
Juvenile justice advocates need to hold facilities accountable for operating in a lawful and humane manner that balances public safety with the equally compelling need for treatment and rehabilitation of young offenders. Subjecting youth to abusive and unlawful conditions of confinement serves only to increase rates of violence and recidivism and to propel children into the adult criminal justice system. Well-documented deficiencies in living space, security, control of suicidal behavior, health care, education and treatment services, emergency preparedness, and access to legal counsel threaten not only the well-being of youth, but the community that will receive them after their release.
A substantial body of case law and several relevant Federal statutes specify the minimum environmental conditions that juvenile institutions must meet. Under these laws detained youth have a right to protection from violent inmates, abusive staff, unsanitary living quarters, excessive isolation, and unreasonable restraints. They must also receive adequate medical and mental health care, education (including special education for youth with disabilities), access to legal counsel, and access to family communication, recreation, exercise, and other programs.
Current methods to improve conditions, such as accreditation of facilities and litigation aimed at correcting monumental deficiencies, are often expensive and time consuming and sometimes allow for only minimal monitoring of existing conditions. This manual sets forth six ideas for improving conditions of confinement that may be used by attorneys, parents, child advocates, and others interested in improving the quality of care received by juveniles in training schools and detention centers across the country. These materials are designed to supplement, not supplant, the need for litigation which, under certain circumstances, is absolutely essential. The following six ideas should be considered as methods of improving oversight, monitoring, and services for detained and committed youth:
Each of these areas is further defined, described, and discussed below. Readers are encouraged to find ways in which to use these tools to improve the conditions of youth in custody. The American Bar Association (202-662-1515) can provide more information, answer questions, or connect readers with other individuals who have expertise in these areas.