The tragic, maddening failure of America's juvenile justice system

We need reform. Now.

Mississippi Juvenile Detention Center
(Image credit: (AP Photo/Richard Ross, Juvenile-in-Justice.com))

When you start reading Nell Bernstein's haunting book about juvenile justice in America, you'll surely become heartbroken at the ways in which our nation systematically abuses, neglects, tortures, and otherwise ruins the lives of generations of children. No parent in America could read this wrenching work and not be touched to tears by its depictions of what our laws and our public officials do to our kids.

But later in your reading of Bernstein's Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison, you'll move from heartbroken to furious. The mindlessness of the policies and practices that turn troubled youths into failed adults — and thus entrench into countless lives cycles of violence, poverty, and despair — are beyond maddening. Our nation's judges, cops, prosecutors, and politicians surely know by now the harm this causes all of us. The evidence of the damage is overwhelming. We imprison our children at seven times the rate Great Britain does and 18 times the rate of France. We spend far more money housing our kids in prison — $88,000 a year — than we do educating them in school. And yet, despite this crushing statistic, our nation does not move quickly enough to prevent the mistreatment, the rapes, the violence, and the degradation that occurs every day in modern American juvenile jails and prisons.

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