Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Unquestionably, jailing children with adults needlessly puts young people at great risk. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities.
Children are up to 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison than children incarcerated in juvenile facilities. Many children prosecuted as adults suffer from untreated mental illness. Unlike adults with mental illness, children have very limited experience managing their disabilities, anxieties, fear, and trauma. They often act impulsively, recklessly, and irresponsibly. In an adult jail or prison, this behavior results in more aggressive punishment, which can worsen a child’s mental health problems.
As thousands of children have been transferred to adult courts for criminal prosecution, growing numbers of them have been automatically placed in adult jails and prisons. Many states strictly prohibit placing children in adult jails or prisons. But a majority of states still permit the practice and thousands of young people have been assaulted, raped, and traumatized as a result.
Every state in the country maintains juvenile facilities and could segregate juveniles from adults but many refuse to do so. EJI believes prison confinement of children with adults is indefensible, cruel, and unusual, and it should be banned.