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National Sheriffs’ Association, Encourage Your Members to Stop Jailing Youth with Adults

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Dear President Champagne and Executive Committee Members of the National Sheriffs’ Association,

You have the opportunity to ensure that youth under 18 involved in the criminal justice system across the country are kept safe from harm by resolving that to fully implement the Youthful Inmate Standard[1] of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) all youth must be removed from adult jails and lockups.

Passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, PREA restricts the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.  Compliance with the Youthful Inmate Standard of the law calls on states to limit contact between youth and adults in adult facilities by banning the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibiting contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensuring youth are constantly supervised by staff.  States must also limit the use of isolation which causes or exacerbates mental health problems for youth. 

Research shows that youth are not safe in adult jails and prisons and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.  According to research by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the youthful inmates aged 16 and 17 that reported sexual abuse, an estimated 78.6% reported experiencing physical force or threat of force and 65.5% reported being victimized more than once.[2]  The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission found that “more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”[3

Stakeholders from across the country have weighed in to support the full implementation of PREA, including removing children from adult jails and prisons.  Stakeholders such as the American Correctional Association[4], Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators[5], National Juvenile Detention Association[6], and the American Jail Association.[7]

And, the public agrees.  Public opinion polling shows that a majority of Americans reject placement of youth in adult jails and prisons and strongly favor rehabilitation and treatment approaches, such as counseling, education, treatment, restitution, and community service.[8]

We understand that jailing youth in adult facilities presents a number of challenging issues related to safety, housing space, and education, not only for the youth, but for you and your members. It is nearly impossible to keep youth safe in adult facilities without the use of segregation and isolation. However, it is also dangerous to segregate and isolate youth. The only solution to fully implement PREA is to remove youth from adult facilities all together.  

We ask that the National Sheriffs’ Association lead by example for its members and draft and adopt a resolution calling for the removal of youth from adult jails and lockups.  We also ask the Association to encourage its members, with the legal authority to do so, to implement a voluntary ban on housing youth in their facilities.  Your leadership on this issue could change the trajectory of thousands of youths’ lives as well as public safety across the country. 



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