It’s About Quality: Private Confinement Facilities in Juvenile Justice

Butts, Jeffrey A. and John Pfaff (2019). It’s About Quality: Private Confinement Facilities in Juvenile Justice. Criminology & Public Policy, online first.

Research Summary: The youth justice system in the United States has always depended on nongovernmental organizations to provide some of the services, supports, and sanctions for youth after juvenile court adjudication. As the use of state-operated youth confinement declined in recent years, primarily as a result of falling rates of serious juvenile crime, the relative importance of private facilities increased. The number of juveniles held in privately operated secure confinement facilities is now larger than the number confined in state institutions.

Policy Implications: Should policy makers be concerned about a gradual shift from public to private secure facilities? Certainly, some private facilities are poorly managed, neglectful, and even abusive, but the same has always been true for some public facilities. Effective policy and practice should be focused on the quality of interventions rather than on their financial auspices. Quality youth justice systems (a) limit the use of confinement to cases where it is objectively necessary, (b) ensure the health and safety of all confined youth, (c) provide effective treatments and developmentally appropriate programming, and (d) continually monitor and evaluate their effectiveness. These goals apply to all forms of secure confinement regardless of financing or organizational configuration.