Juvenile detention centers are facilities that house minors convicted of crimes. These centers are separated from adult prison facilities. The juvenile detention center is where the minor convicted of a crime serves a sentence; the center also offers the minor opportunities for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation services are designed to prevent minors from engaging in subsequent criminal activity.

What Kinds of Crimes Result in Placement in Juvenile Detention?

Minors who commit crimes involving assault, theft of or damage to property, or drug offenses, may be sentenced to juvenile detention — just as an adult would be sentenced to jail for commission of those crimes. Offenses that can only be committed by a minor, and not by an adult, also can result in juvenile detention. These offenses include truancy, which is absence from school without a valid reason. These offenses also include running away from home, underage drinking, and driving a car while being under the age required for a license or permit.

How Does a Juvenile Detention Center Differ from Jail?

There are significant differences between juvenile detention and jail. Juvenile detention (sometimes referred to as “juvy,” “juvie,” or “juvenile hall”) typically consists of juveniles living with other juveniles, in rooms. In “regular” jail, inmates are typically confined to a cell, often without a roommate.

During juvenile detention, children are often given school instruction, as they would be were they in a public school. The detention center is staffed with aides or guards who escort juveniles to and from cafeterias, restrooms, and recreational activities. After-school activities are varied. Juveniles who consistently demonstrate good behavior while in the center, may earn “privileges” such as time outdoors, the right to watch a movie, and the right to call a friend.

Juveniles also have responsibilities while in a detention center. These activities can include cleaning their rooms, cafeteria rooms, and common areas. Another responsibility is attendance at rehabilitation and therapy meetings and activities. The purpose of rehabilitation and therapy is to encourage juveniles to engage in behavior that improves their health, their ability to interact with others, and their ability to manage their daily affairs. Some activities include recreational therapy, such as art therapy and music therapy, while other more formal therapy consists of mental health treatment and counseling.

What Rehabilitative Services are Offered?

Rehabilitative services offered at detention centers are varied, with different services focusing on different child needs. Such services may include:

  • “Cognitive behavioral” therapy, or CBT: CBT focuses on identifying unhelpful or disruptive thoughts, and equipping the minor with strategies to cope with these thoughts.
  • Services that develop skills: Services that develop skills, can reduce the chance that minors will commit crimes in the future. Such services include conflict-avoidance, conflict resolution, and anger management treatment services.
  • Volunteer services: A detention center may offer juveniles the opportunity to participate in community service activities. This participation is meant to assist in the switch to successfully re-enter the juvenile’s community.

Are there Alternative Sentencing Options?

Juveniles may be given sentences that do not involve staying at a detention center. These other sentences consist of the following measures:

  • House arrest;
  • Participation in community service programs;
  • Participation in anger management therapy;
  • Participation in substance abuse disorder treatment;
  • Participation in a so-called “diversionary program.” Diversionary programs are rehabilitation programs designed to prevent subsequent criminal activity. In a diversionary program, a juvenile may, for example, learn how to avoid placing themselves in settings where they might commit further crimes. In other diversionary programs, children may receive educational instruction;
  • Apologizing and making restitution to (paying victims for money they lost) victims;
  • Payment of fines; and
  • Restriction on the juvenile’s ability to travel, such as curfews, or prohibitions on the child’s entering certain areas, such as a school zone.

Alternative sentencing options are discretionary with a judge. That is, a judge will consider the unique facts of each juvenile’s case before deciding which, if any, alternative sentence is appropriate. Generally, alternative sentences are more likely to be given to first-time offenders than to repeat offenders. In addition, alternative sentences are more likely to be given when the crime committed is less severe.

For example, an alternative sentence is more likely to be given to a juvenile convicted of shoplifting involving a small sum of money, than to a juvenile who is convicted of a violent crime, or to a juvenile who has already been convicted of criminal offenses.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Juvenile Detention Matter?

If you are a juvenile facing criminal charges, or a parent of a juvenile who is facing criminal charges, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney in your area can review the facts of your or your child’s case, and provide advice on rights, options, and how to proceed. A criminal defense lawyer may also represent a juvenile at hearings and at trial.