Studies have determined that there are negative long-term mental health consequences of locking up youth as adults. In many states, youth in adult jails and prisons are often locked up in solitary confinement for weeks or months, exposing youth to long-term mental and psychological harm that may never be remedied. Broadly, research finds that portions and pathways of the brain that do not remain active during adolescent development will die off. In an environment full of trauma, and often lacking positive social interactions and proper educational stimulation, incarceration in adult facilities can permanently impact a youth’s mental disposition. It comes as no surprise, then, that youth incarcerated in adult facilities are significantly more likely to experience long-term depression than those with juvenile or community placements.
Youth enter the justice system in dire need of educational services and have not had time to finish secondary education, and disproportionately many of these youth require special-needs attention. However, contrary to juvenile justice systems, the adult systems were not designed to offer educational services that minors need – and only 60 percent of adult jails have educational programs. Juvenile facilities average one teacher per 15 inmates, while adult facilities offer one teacher for every 100 inmates. Furthermore, in juvenile facilities, youth who are ready for college courses can still be eligible for PELL support. In the adult system, youth incarcerated in state programs are not eligible to receive PELL support during their incarceration. Many returning youth hoping to pursue college education during reentry are ineligible for federal education grants and loans, or are dissuaded from applying to college when asked about their criminal history on college applications. Youth who lack a basic foundation in education struggle in the job market and other aspects of reentry, and research sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education indicates that such a lack of access to education is a strong determinant of re-offense.
"The prisons don’t have many programs that you can take advantage of, so the ability to be able to self-educate … it’s challenging."
A 2015 study from the Ella Baker Center found that more than three-quarters of formerly incarcerated adults experience finding employment to be “very difficult or nearly impossible.” More than two-thirds of respondents reported being unemployed or underemployed five years after release, and most believed their lack of education and criminal record limited employment opportunities. Children who enter the adult system – whether incarcerated at age 7 or 17 – will carry the burden of a criminal conviction for their entire working life, with lost opportunities compounding year after year. . Furthermore, many children who are incarcerated in adult facilities have no prior work experience. Given their age, they are also often excluded from work opportunities in adult correctional facilities; the lack of work experiences compounds the difficulty in seeking employment post-release. Jailing youth ages 16 to 25 will reduce work time by 25 to 30 percent over their lifetime, according to the Justice Policy Institute. From a public safety standpoint, research from the National Institute of Justice determined that lack of employment causes substantially higher recidivism.