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Children in Adult Prisons: Reasons for Concern Essay

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Updated: May 23rd, 2021

The fact that some children in the United States are sent to adult prisons is of great concern to many researchers and policy-makers. In particular, they focus their attention on the difficulties experienced by these individuals (Kolivoski & Shook, 2016). This paper will explain how and why some minors may be put in adult prisons. It is also critical to describe the way in which they are treated and protected.

Finally, one should explain how one can sentence these children without sending them to adult prisons. Overall, American legislators should adopt the policies helping convicted children re-integrate themselves into society; to achieve this goal, they should reduce the incarceration of underage people in adult prisons.

The Cases When Children Can Be Put in Adult Prisons

There are several situations when a minor person can be transferred to an adult prison. The offenses committed by these people are normally heard by juvenile courts. Nevertheless, sometimes, the criminal justice system can try and punish these children as adults. Firstly, one should speak about the cases when an underage individual commits a serious felony such as rape or murder (Abrams & Terry, 2017).

Additionally, it is possible to consider the situations when a minor carries out an offense despite the previous efforts to rehabilitate him/her (Abrams & Terry, 2017). Under such circumstances, the judge of the juvenile court has the authority to transfer the child to an adult court. Additionally, there are statutory requirements according to which a child, who has perpetrated a certain crime, should be transferred to an adult court. Sometimes, the jurisdiction over a case is dependent on the charges made by the prosecutors (Abrams & Terry, 2017). Furthermore, if a juvenile was once tried as an adult, the subsequent offenses committed by this person also have to be heard in adult courts. Thus, the criminal justice system can sometimes lead children to adult prisons.

One should bear in mind that in the United States, there is no universal standard determining when an underage individual can be put in an adult prison. In many states, there are no minimum age standards that can prevent a child from being tried in an adult court (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015). Very often, juvenile courts can transfer minors to adult courts if these people are aged 14 or above (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015). Thus, children in the United States are not properly safeguarded against being put in adult prisons.

The Protections Available to Minors

The treatment received by underage individuals is determined by the distinct needs of these people and their vulnerabilities. It should be noted that they are usually more exposed to the risk of both physical and sexual abuse when they are sent to adult prisons (Kolivoski & Shook, 2016). Additionally, they must not be deprived of opportunities for continuing their education even when their liberty is restricted.

Therefore, the representatives of the criminal justice system are expected to take several measures. Firstly, in some cases, children are allowed to remain in juvenile facilities even when they are found guilty of serious crimes. They are transferred to adult prisons only when they turn 18 (Kolivoski & Shook, 2016). This precaution is aimed at minimizing their interactions with habitual adult offenders. Moreover, this policy is supposed to reduce the risk of their victimization.

In those cases, when minors are incarcerated in adult prisons, they are expected to be separated from adult offenders. These requirements were formulated in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (Benekos & Merlo, 2014).

Much attention should also be paid to the Prison Rape Elimination Act that requires correctional facilities to safeguard minors from this abuse (Soyer, 2018). For instance, there should be a certain minimum number of officers monitoring juvenile inmates (Soyer, 2018). Additionally, prisoners should be allowed to complain about such cases to outside authorities. It is also critical to consider the developmental needs of these people. In particular, the correctional facility is obliged to help these people receive the education required for the re-integration into society. Overall, the government is obliged to recognize the distinct characteristics of underage convicts.

Fair Sentencing for Children

Those children, who are now put in adult prisons, require the close attention of legislators, social workers, and policy-makers. At first, public administrators should have a clear idea of such a phenomenon as juvenile delinquency. In particular, they should remember that this phenomenon is primarily caused by the failure of social institutions. For instance, children growing up in impoverished communities normally have fewer educational opportunities (Decker & Marteache, 2016). Very often, they attend schools that do not receive sufficient funding. Furthermore, they live in neighborhoods in which crimes are very widespread (Decker & Marteache, 2016).

From their perspective, delinquent behavior becomes something habitual. By focusing on this issue, one can understand the injustice of the sentencing policies allowing children to be incarcerated in adult prisons. These policies are not aimed at helping underage individuals become full-fledged citizens. More likely, such sentencing practices marginalize these children and turn them into hardened criminals. It should be mentioned that these people are more likely to commit crimes in the future (Black, 2018). Furthermore, they have fewer opportunities for securing any well-paid employment (Black, 2018). Thus, it is essential to adopt alternative approaches to this problem.

Legislators should design several policies that can promote the rehabilitation of underage individuals. Firstly, if children are not found guilty of any violent crimes, they should not be incarcerated in adult prisons. In such cases, they may be required to go to juvenile facilities. Secondly, they may be obliged to participate in various rehabilitation programs without going to any correctional facilities. One has to admit that in some cases, incarceration in an adult prison may be the only option available to a court. This argument applies to cases when a minor commits a felony, such as rape or murder. However, if a child perpetrates less serious crimes, he/she should not be incarcerated in an adult prison.


This discussion indicates that, at present, the American criminal justice system exposes many underage individuals to additional risks by placing them in adult prisons. There are some safeguards that are supposed to minimize their victimization. For instance, it is possible to mention the requirement according to which they should be separated from adult convicts. Nevertheless, these measures are not sufficient because they do not ensure that convicted children can reintegrate themselves into the community. In their turn, legislators should adopt a different policy; in particular, they should minimize the transfer of minors to adult prisons. In this way, they can assist them in becoming law-abiding citizens.


Abrams, L., & Terry, D. (2017). Everyday resistance: The transition to adulthood among formerly incarcerated youth. Newark, NY: Rutgers University Press.

Benekos, P., & Merlo, A. (2014). Controversies in juvenile justice and delinquency (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Black, D. (2018). Ending zero tolerance: The crisis of absolute school discipline. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Decker, S., & Marteache, N. (2016). International handbook of juvenile justice (2nd. ed.). New York, NY: Springer.

Kolivoski, K., & Shook, J. (2016). Incarcerating juveniles in adult prisons: Examining the relationship between age and prison behavior is transferred juveniles. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 20(10), 1-18.

Neubauer, D., & Fradella, H. (2015). America’s courts and the criminal justice system (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Soyer, M. (2018). Lost childhoods: Poverty, trauma, and violent crime in the post-welfare era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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