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What Is a Juvenile Detention Center?

A therapist working with a juvenile offender.
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  • Written By: K. Testa
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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A juvenile detention center is a short-term residential facility that houses youth offenders while they are awaiting court hearings or placement in a long-term program. Judges typically send young offenders to a juvenile hall in order to ensure public safety, as well as to encourage the well-being of the children. In general, juveniles are not treated the same as adult criminals. Rather, they are considered under a form of protective supervision. The characteristics of detention centers can differ from place to place.

The definition of a youth offender varies widely throughout the world. For example, the age of criminal responsibility in Canada is age 12. In the United States, it can range from age six to age 12, depending on the state. From the age of criminal responsibility until the youth reaches adulthood, he or she is considered a juvenile offender. A juvenile detention center is generally considered more appropriate than an adult correctional facility, especially for minor offenses.

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In the U.S., a state or county might run a juvenile detention center. Alternatively, it could be a private, for-profit business or a nonprofit organization. The structure and daily routine can also vary from one center to another. In addition to the beds, there are usually dining and recreational areas. Many centers have a medical clinic, mental health facilities, religious services, and classrooms available on site. They may differ from one another in outward appearance — some look like correctional facilities — while others are constructed to look more like community centers or schools.

In general, most youth detention centers have strict procedures and consistent daily routines. Some of them also separate the offenders according to the severity of their crimes. Depending on how long someone is ordered to stay at a juvenile detention center, he or she may also be required to take part in certain programs related to his or her offense. For example, some centers offer drug abuse programs or anger management training.

A juvenile detention center usually differs from a traditional rehabilitation program or a correctional facility for youths. Some facilities offer unique approaches to rehabilitation, such as providing counseling and a more positive atmosphere than other correctional programs. Some advocacy groups are opposed to any type of punitive measures for youth offenders and feel that children should not be locked up. They argue that the juvenile justice system is flawed and that alternative initiatives that focus on family interventions and other youth programs would eliminate the need for so many secure facilities. Supporters of juvenile detention centers, however, often cite statistics about greater public safety and lower adult crime rates.

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