IYI Logo

Why Youth Incarceration Fails: An Updated Review of the Evidence

Executive Summary

Though the number of youth confined nationwide has
declined significantly over the past two decades, our
country still incarcerates far too many young people.
It does so despite overwhelming evidence showing
that incarceration is an ineffective strategy for steering
youth away from delinquent behavior and that high
rates of youth incarceration do not improve public
safety. Incarceration harms young people’s physical and
mental health, impedes their educational and career
success, and often exposes them to abuse. And the use
of confinement is plagued by severe racial and ethnic

This publication summarizes the evidence documenting
the serious problems associated with the youth justice
system’s continuing heavy reliance on incarceration
and makes recommendations for reducing the use of
confinement. It begins by describing recent incarceration
trends in the youth justice system. This assessment finds
that the sizable drop in juvenile facility populations
since 2000 is due largely to a substantial decline in
youth arrests nationwide, not to any shift toward other
approaches by juvenile courts or corrections agencies
once youth enter the justice system. Most youth who are
incarcerated in juvenile facilities are not charged with
serious violent offenses, yet the United States continues
to confine youth at many times the rates of other nations.
And it continues to inflict the harms of incarceration
disproportionately on Black youth and other youth
of color – despite well-established alternatives that
produce better outcomes for youth and community


Source: The Sentencing Project (2023). Why Youth Incarceration Fails: An Updated Review of the Evidence.