16 images that demonstrate America’s addiction to jailing children


For “Prison Kids,” Fusion traveled across the country, gathering the stories of kids who grew up behind bars. We found children subjected to solitary confinement; mental health problems; physical and mental abuse; racial inequities; lives ruined forever at an early age.

Take the time to watch the full documentary above, which also premieres on TV on Sunday, October 4. Share it. And below, explore America’s preoccupation with child incarceration, by the numbers.



Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation

No developed country jails children at the rate the U.S. does — and it’s not even close. South Africa, the nation with the second-highest incarceration rate for youths, still jails 5 times fewer children than the U.S. per 100,000 residents, according to the latest available survey from 2008.



Sources: Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention; bjs.gov

Roughly 54,000 kids are kept in American youth detention centers each night. Another 5,400 are cloistered in adult jails and prisons. There are no reliable numbers on how many children pass through the penal system in a given year; the federal government keeps statistics only on nightly bed counts.



Source: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice



Sources: CNN; Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation estimated that in 2008 the average cost to keep a juvenile in prison for nine months to a year could be run from $66,000 to $88,000, more than twice the tuition and fees charged at George Washington University, the college with the highest price tag in the U.S. that year, according to CNN.



Source: Prison Kids; Correctional Institution Inspection Committee

In Prison Kids, Fusion followed Allen, a teen from Ohio who was jailed for more than two years; he spent almost one year straight in solitary confinement. Records obtained by Fusion show that on one day in 2012, 92 percent of the children incarcerated with Allen were on psychotropic drugs for mental issues.



Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting



Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting

It happens very rarely, but specifics of how children under 10 are arrested for violent or unexpected vice crimes are unclear. Cases such as those reported here by the FBI often involve human trafficking. These include child welfare cases that should never have been processed through the juvenile justice system, says Mishi Faruqee, national field director at the Youth First Initiative.



Source: Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention



Sources: Annie E. Casey Foundation, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention



Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting

FBI records show that of the 1,032,655 kids arrested in 2013, only a very small minority — 44,587 — were arrested for violent offenses such as murder, forcible rape, or robbery. The vast majority of arrests are for theft, drinking-related violations, and petty offenses.



Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting

The FBI keeps stats for what it calls “suspicion” arrests: children who were arrested for no specific offense and eventually released without charges. Despite their shaky constitutional grounds, arrests by cops for “suspicion” are perfectly legal in many jurisdictions.



Source: OJJDP list of status offenses



Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting

Wisconsin, which has one of the highest juvenile arrest rates in the country, made 1050 arrests of girls under the age of 12 in 2013, according to FBI records. The state made more than twice that many arrests of boys of the same age.



Sources: Florida Dept of Juvenile Justice, Delinquency in Florida’s Schools; U.S. Census: Easy Stats



Source: Correctional Institution Inspection Committee; Annie E. Casey Foundation

While no one keeps central nationwide statistics, lawsuits and public records show that penal facilities over-rely on solitary confinement — often to protect youths from violence or sexual assault in general criminal populations. In the middle of a major reform in 2011, Ohio found that it had placed children in solitary confinement for a total of 229,000 hours. The state has since announced sweeping reforms to eliminate isolation for juveniles.



Source: Fusion analysis of data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

That’s the lowest estimate — enough money to buy a fleet of 45 F-35 fighter jets, send 156,000 kids to America’s most expensive private college, or fund the Environmental Protection Agency for a year.

This post has been updated to include the “Prison Kids” documentary video.