Minors in Adult Prisons: Sound Punishment or Counter-Productive?


Michael Kemp was just 17 years old when he was charged, as an adult, with armed robbery and sent to adult jail.

“You never know what the adults might do to you, and you’re just thinking, man, what’s going to happen to me?” he told Digital Journal. “For a kid, being in an adult prison is a constant struggle to survive. They know… that you’re far away from home, so they pull you in. But in reality, they’re trying to get a favor out of you — a sexual act — and then you get victimized or raped and then you become someone’s… person.”

Luckily for Kemp, he was not one of these victims, but so many other young inmates are not as fortunate. Even though only 1% of all inmates in adult jail are under the age of 18, according to a 2005 study, a reported 1 in 5 cases of all sexual violence in jails and prisons happen to these minors. As a result, all too many of these child inmates end up suffering from long-term psychological and emotional damage that will impact them for life. Child detainees are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult prison than if they were put in a juvenile hall.

And yet, according to federal statistics, an estimated 10,000 children as young as 13 years old continue to be locked up with adult criminals. Alarmingly, over 75% of these children have not even been formally convicted yet. Although not yet old enough to drink, vote, or sometimes even drive, children under the age of 18 may nonetheless be able to be prosecuted as adults and locked up with adult criminals.

Earlier this month, 32 members of Congress addressed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in an effort to persuade him to realize that keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system would “be consistent with Congressional intent,” and in fact congruent with the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. This is an extremely valid point; however, there has been no reply by the Attorney General as of yet. We can also do our part in helping to make this issue known, and by taking action now to rescue children from the adult prison system.

“It’s just preparing you for a more criminal-type lifestyle,” said Kemp.  Juvenile correctional facilities, on the other hand, stress the importance of serving as  a launching-off point for their young inmates to make a better life for themselves after serving their time.  By subjecting them to the trauma and neglect of adult prison, these children are set up to fail.

We need to make it extremely clear to our state decisionmakers that adult prisons are unsafe for minors.


Related Stories:

Rape Victim Misses Trial, Is Put in Jail

Mississippi Bans Solitary Confinement For Juveniles

Do Police Officers Belong in America’s High Schools?



Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

if you do adult crimes in adult ways? then you can do adult time in adult places. I was PERFECTLY aware of my actions AND their consequences at 12 and 13. I knew right from wrong. So if I chose to break a law I KNEW what could happen to me. These kids aren't "children" they are teens... teens who, once released back into society at 18 or 21, will continue on their path. Period. There are few exceptions. Look up killers and see how many hundreds of them were "child criminals". The numbers will shock you. They know what they do. They belong in prison unless, like their adult counterparts, they can get out on basis of incompetence or insanity.

Carole R.
Carole R5 years ago

Depending oin the crime. Some deserve it, some don't. Bottom line .... stay out of trouble and you won't have to worry about it.

Kristen H.
Kristen H5 years ago

It is a gross injustice to the children. How are you going to put a 13-year old in the same prison with child molestors who are twice his size, twice his age and way better at manipulating kids into doing things they don't want to do?

As for the poster whose "cousin" was in juvey for years and it didn't teach him his lesson - really? If he's still doing illegal things, then obviously he was scarred, not just by his crappy childhood but also by his crappy experiences in juvey! My goodness, people, children are not just disposable humans! As another poster pointed out, their brains & characters are not yet fully formed and they need support, redirection and discipline, not abuse and neglect!

and for those who say adult crime = adult time... you have absolutely no clue about how messed up these kids are, and what a cry for help these crimes are. Kids need intervention and direction, not to go to a prison with child molestors, rapists and murderers. People, get a clue somewhere! Grow a heart in those cold souls of yours! Sheesh.

Jane R.
Jane R5 years ago

If you don't want to go to prison, don't commit a crime! You get what you deserve when you break the law!

Emily Drew
Emily Drew5 years ago

Sound punishment. Maybe it will get them to think more about there actions. I know I may sound ignorant, but my cousin practically lived in juvey all his teen years and it wasn't strict at all. Didn't learn his lesson.

Phillip F.
Phillip Ferrell5 years ago

The same kind of crap happens in both places. I'm here to tell ya, I've been locked up in juvinile facillities and they aren't any different from state pens. Sometimes the people who are supposed to be protecting you are your worst enemies. They will set you up to be raped or killed. In any prison facillity you can be raped and murdered including juvinile prison. Make no mistake about it. Prison is prison. Any one who thinks they ought to be sent to day care for armed robbery or murder or both better get themselves a new thinking cap.

Morgan Forrester
Past Member 5 years ago

Counter productive & harmful to the child.

Donna B.
Donna B5 years ago

They should not be put in an adult prison until they are 18 years old. That's how I feel about it. I know there are dangerous kids out there but should they be put in with adults before the age of 18? No...

MEGAN N5 years ago

While I am sure there are some exceptions, in general I believe that minors are redeemable. Their brains are not fully developed and their impulse control is not what it would be as an adult. Additionally teenagers are often controlled by emotion and shortsightedness and a reckless attitude of indestructibility. As we age these will erode into eventual maturity. Most young people manage to avoid trouble because they have adults who love them and teach them that actions have consequences. If kids in a juvenile correction facility are able to get this attention then maybe they will be able to move on to a productive adult life. However in prison they are more likely to become hardened and hopeless. This will not end well for them or for us as a society.

Trudy C.
Trudy C5 years ago

If we all wouldn't suffer in the end, adult crime should mean adult time. But life doesn't work that way, they come out eventually, they don't go live on a different planet - when that child comes out, and is now more damaged, hardened, resentful & more skilled in criminal behaviour learned from the adult prisoners, it's us all that get affected. Unless we & our kids are going to live behind our own prison walls in autonomous, high-priced, gated communities until we're outnumbered and the beasts outside break their way in. Anyway, what about any adults who helped create the little criminals, who failed as parents, they get away scott free?!