What is a Youth Detention Center?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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A youth detention center is a facility designed to house minors until they appear in court or after a judge orders a juvenile locked up. Also called juvenile hall or juvenile detention centers, the system provides a place to isolate young offenders who pose a risk to themselves or the community. A youth detention center can be a secure facility for serious offenders, or farms and camps aimed at rehabilitating minor offenders in more informal settings.

Juvenile hall commonly serves as temporary housing for minors who are arrested. They sometimes remain in custody until they appear in court to determine what happens next. A judge will look at the youth’s family situation, school performance, and the seriousness of the crime before deciding to place the minor in a youth detention center. If the child’s home is not safe or drug abuse issues are present, the minor might be held in a youth detention center until final disposition of the case.

Most youth detention centers offer mental health counseling and drug abuse treatment, along with educational courses. They are commonly secure facilities that may house boys and girls in separate wings. Typically, the offender is held here if he or she poses a danger to the community or has violated a prior court order.


If the offense committed is serious, like murder or a sex crime where force was used, the youth can be sentenced to a secure youth detention center as punishment and for rehabilitation. He or she might be taught life skills and participate in work programs. Sex offender counseling is available at some centers, along with anger management courses.

Some areas offer boot camp programs, farms, or other alternatives where a minor offender can learn to take responsibility for his or her behavior. These programs may focus on job skills, or be operated like a regimented military-style camp. If an offender successfully completes the program, he or she might be able to keep the crime off the record.

Other options generally exist for those who have committed minor offenses. A judge can place the child on probation with certain conditions for a set period of time. House arrest, where the youth wears an ankle bracelet to monitor where he or she is at all times, is also commonly available. If the judge determines family issues contributed to the child’s actions, family counseling may be ordered.

In the late 1800s, reform homes were established to deal with young people who break the law. These youth detention centers resembled orphanages and actually housed homeless children. Before, children as young as seven years old were housed with adult offenders. Governments took on parental roles by the 19th century, when a youth detention center was designed with rehabilitation as the focus. More secure youth detention centers were built as juvenile crime escalated into more serious offenses.


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