New report from The Sentencing Project explains why youth incarceration fails

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Incarcerating youth undermines public safety, concludes The Sentencing Project in a new report. The publication also finds that confinement damages young people’s physical and mental health, impedes their educational and career success, and often exposes them to abuse. 

 “Research and recent history show we can’t fight crime by locking up more of our kids,” said Richard Mendel, Senior Research Fellow at The Sentencing Project and author of today’s report, Why Youth Incarceration Fails: An Updated Review of the Evidence. “Community alternatives, such as mentoring programs, wraparound care, and family-focused treatment, yield lower recidivism and greater youth success at lower costs.”

According to the new report, incarcerated youth are more likely to reoffend than similarly situated peers who are given other consequences for their behaviors. Ever-increasing evidence shows that vast racial and ethnic disparities in youth confinement reflect biased decision making – disproportionately exposing youth of color to the harmful effects of incarceration.

The report also shows that incarceration slows young people’s emotional maturation, a key to desisting from delinquency, and that it exacerbates childhood traumas that tend to drive youth toward delinquent behaviors in the first place.

Specifically, the report shows: 

Incarceration does not reduce delinquent behavior.

Incarceration causes substantial long-term harm to young people’s success in education and employment.

Incarceration does lasting damage to young people’s physical and mental health.

The facilities in which youth are incarcerated are rife with maltreatment and abuse.

The abuses and harms of incarceration are inflicted disproportionately on Black youth and other youth of color.


About The Sentencing Project - The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.