More than 100,000 juveniles were serving time in America's juvenile institutions in 1998. A juvenile court can commit a delinquent to a state training school, a ranch, a private residential treatment facility, or a juvenile prison. Training schools exist in every state except Massachusetts, which abolished them in the 1970s. Most hold serious delinquents. Almost all are state operated and controlled. To better handle violent youths, some states have created more secure facilities called juvenile prisons.
Some of the worst conditions in juvenile corrections can be found among the growing number of privately operated prisons, whether those built specifically for one state or those that take juveniles from across the country. Only 5 percent of the nation's juvenile prisons are operated by private, for‐profit companies. As their numbers grow, however, their regulation has become one of the hottest issues in juvenile justice. In April 1998, Colorado officials shut down a juvenile prison operated by the Rebound Corporation after a mentally ill 13‐year‐old's suicide led to an investigation that uncovered repeated instances of physical and sexual abuse. This private prison housed offenders from six states. In July 1998, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, an offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a federal lawsuit against a private prison for juveniles in Tallulah, Louisiana, to stop brutality and neglect.
Recognizing the problem of cruel and inhumane conditions in juvenile prisons, the U.S. Department of Justice began a series of investigations into state juvenile systems. In a recent investigation of Georgia's juvenile correctional institutions, the DOJ threatened to take over the state's juvenile system, charging a “pattern of egregious conditions violating the federal rights of youth,” including the use of pepper spray to restrain mentally ill youths, a lack of textbooks, and guards who routinely stripped young inmates and locked them in their cells for days. In November 1998, the DOJ sued the state of Louisiana, believed to have the worst juvenile prisons in the nation, with failing to protect youthful inmates from brutality by guards and providing inadequate education and medical and mental health care.
A series of Supreme Court decisions and state laws have mandated a higher standard for juvenile prisons than for adult prisons. There is supposed to be more schooling, medical care, and security because the young offenders have been adjudicated delinquent rather than convicted of crimes as adults and therefore are held for rehabilitation rather than punishment. Critics contend that some private prisons, to earn a profit, scrimp on money for education and mental health treatment in states that already spend little in those areas. Critics also assert that these prisons keep staff wages and inmate services at a minimum while taking in as many young inmates as possible.
The postincarceration stage involves parole. A parole officer supervises youthful offenders in the community. Young parolees can have their paroles revoked and be returned to institutions. Juvenile parolees have no due process rights in parole revocation. Parole and other aftercare programs are supplemented with electronic monitoring, treatment, education, work training, and intensive parole supervision.