The Nation: Lennard: The Battle Against Prisons for Kids

Images from the exhibit “Juvenile In Justice” by photographer Richard Ross were on display at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada. (AP Photo / Scott Sonner)

For as long as youth prisons have existed in the United States, so too has the pretense that there are no youth prisons. Early 19th century reformers who sought to remove children from the harsh adult penal system established new institutions specifically for the detention of youths. They didn’t call them prisons, but Houses of Refuge, dedicated to the discipline and reform of newly coined group, “juvenile delinquents.” Founded with ostensibly laudable intent, the institutions were overcrowded fortresses, riddled with abuse, serving to institutionalize strict social control over poor and immigrant communities. That is, they were prisons.
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