How PREA affects handling of juvenile offenders

To comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, we have to be more hands-on with juvenile offenders than ever before


Article updated on September 19, 2017.

One of the new things the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) has us adjusting to is the youthful offender housing unit.

While all states vary, I believe the standard model pre-PREA was to place the youthful offender with an adult offender. This adult offender would help them adjust, and look out for them, so to speak, thus limiting the minor’s chances of being victimized.

Every step with these offenders will be small. They believe they know more than adults.
Every step with these offenders will be small. They believe they know more than adults.

Post-PREA, we have housing units for under-18 offenders only, with no contact with adult offenders.

Open bay problems

A big problem is open bay housing units. If you are going to throw a bunch of bunks in an open bay type of unit, expect problems. Placing several offenders in a setting like this is going to be very stressful. They will not be able to have any time to themselves of have an opportunity to decompress. In this environment, tension will build until something happens. This tension will spread and affect everyone in the housing unit, not just the ones having problems with one another.   

They’re not your kids

While you may be a much better parent to your kids than their parents were to them, these are not your kids. Their life experiences are very different from anything you’re going to expect. Treating them like one your kids is only going to get you taken advantage of … a lot.

They’ve successfully lied to and manipulated their own families, who, regardless of what you think of them, know these offenders far better than you. If they got one over on them, they will get over on you.

One of the biggest problems with adult offenders is that they don’t feel accountable. When they do something you have to address, and you give them whatever disciplinary measure that seems appropriate, you must follow through.

Letting them off easy will reinforce their lack of accountability, which means they will progressively get worse and escalate their transgressions.

Rehabilitation

Your biggest job is to get them ready to either return home or go to general population when they turn 18. To do this, you have to be realistic with them. 

Talk to them about their goals and their plan to achieve those goals. It shows them the line of thinking they should be using, instead of how they are thinking.

Every step with these offenders will be small. They believe they know more than adults. It is likely they have been raised to distrust law enforcement. It is pretty much a given they will have issues with authority figures. Firm, fair and consistent is more important with these offenders than any other offender you have dealt with.

Lastly; while offender X may be in for drugs, it is very possible he has more serious crimes on his sealed juvenile record. Do not let yourself begin thinking of them as kids. They are offenders; it’s just as dangerous to underestimate them as it is anyone else.

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