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“The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced in a year-end report a 2 percent reduction in the number of prisoners nationally, continuing a modest decline of recent years. Overlooked by most observers, though, was the fact that the number of juveniles held in adult prisons declined to fewer than 1,000, an 82 percent drop from the peak year in 1997.
“Although America’s penchant for incarceration has been widely recognized in recent years as counterproductive, the actual decline in prison populations has been very modest. In contrast, the reduced number of young people in adult prisons, along with a 50 percent decline in their confinement to youth facilities, suggests that population reductions on a significant scale are possible as well as politically feasible. A look at how the juvenile experience has changed can provide lessons in how to accelerate the reduction of adult incarceration.
“Teenagers under 18 have long been subjected to adult court jurisdiction in certain circumstances, and policies designed to expand those numbers were widely adopted in the ‘tough on crime’ era of the 1980s and 1990s. With two decades of experience we now have evidence of the counterproductive outcomes of those policies. Research documents both the greater vulnerability to abuse and the greater incidence of recidivism when young people are confined in adult prisons.”