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The Impact of Incarceration on Juvenile Offenders

Increasingly, research points to the negative effects of incarcerating youth offenders, particularly in adult facilities. Literature published since 2000 suggests that incarceration fails to meet the developmental and criminogenic needs of youth offenders and is limited in its ability to provide appropriate rehabilitation. Incarceration often results in negative behavioral and mental health consequences, including ongoing engagement in offending behaviors and contact with the justice system. Although incarceration of youth offenders is often viewed as a necessary means of public protection, research indicates that it is not an effective option in terms of either cost or outcome. The severe behavioral problems of juvenile offenders are a result of complex and interactive individual and environmental factors, which elicit and maintain offending behavior. Therefore, the focus of effective treatment must be on addressing such criminogenic needs and the multiple “systems” in which the young person comes from. Recent research demonstrates that in order to achieve the best outcomes for youth offenders and the general public, community-based, empirically supported intervention practices must be adopted as an alternative to incarceration wherever possible.