Juvenile Detention:

Detention Using Staff Supervision Rather Than Architectural Barriers

GGD-86-30: Published: Dec 13, 1985. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed staff secure juvenile detention programs, which use around-the-clock supervision instead of the architectural restraints such as bars and locks used in the secure detention method. GAO visited facilities in several states and interviewed juvenile justice experts to obtain information concerning the: (1) reasons why juveniles were placed in the facilities; (2) methods used to restrain juveniles in the facilities; (3) safeguards used to prevent juveniles from being abused; and (4) range of time juveniles were held in the facilities.

In the juvenile justice system, juveniles are generally classified into three categories: (1) delinquents, who have been charged with or convicted of a criminal offense; (2) status offenders, who have been accused of committing or have committed an offense for which an adult would not be charged; and (3) nonoffenders, who are before the court because of various nondelinquent circumstances. States that receive federal grants are prohibited from keeping status offenders or nonoffenders in secure facilities designed to physically restrict their movements. GAO visited 24 staff secure facilities and found that: (1) 12 facilities housed juvenile delinquents, status offenders, and nonoffenders, 8 housed juvenile delinquents and status offenders, 2 housed only delinquents, and 2 held only status offenders; (2) juveniles were placed in the facilities for protection from themselves and others, to ensure their appearances in court, and to prevent future offenses; (3) 19 facilities had neither locks nor bars, 3 had some windows or doors that were locked or nailed shut, and 2 had architectural barriers; (4) directors from 15 of the facilities do not allow physical restraint to prevent juveniles from leaving, but all of the directors except one said they would physically restrain juveniles for protection purposes; (5) a variety of monitoring and inspection methods were used to ensure that juveniles were not abused by staff or other juveniles; and (6) minimum and maximum stays ranged from 1/2 hour in an emergency holdover facility to 2 years in a long-term treatment facility.

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