Jails and prisons are often referred to as correctional facilities because it creates the idea that those who are brought to these facilities can have their behavior “corrected” by spending time behind bars. Someone who breaks the law at a young age should, in theory, not break the law anymore after getting out again.

But does that work for teens and young offenders? Does it really help them and help their future?

No. Emphatically, reports show that jail time does not help and that the system does not work. Instead, teens who get out are:

  • Traumatized from their time in jail
  • Cut off from their families and communities
  • Less likely to have healthy relationships moving forward
  • Less likely to get an education
  • Less able to land jobs and start careers
  • Less likely to lead productive lives

When you break down the process, it seems clear. Say that a teen is in high school when they get arrested. They spend months or a year in jail. When they get out, they don’t return to school. They don’t go to college. They can’t get anything more than a minimum wage job. Often, teens in this position feel like they have to turn to crime — theft, selling drugs, etc. — just to have any options in life. Going to jail didn’t help them reform. It just ruined any possible development and trapped them in a system of crime for life.

Is that really the goal we want to pursue? It’s fairly clear that it is not, which is why teens and parents alike need to know what legal options they have.