Campaign Calls for Closure of 80 Youth Prisons Nationwide

The ambitious plan has already gained support in three states.

(Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

By: Rebecca McCray

Without the support of his family, Da’Quon Beaver doesn’t know how he would have made it through the seven years he spent behind bars beginning at age 14.

“My mother was there for me every step of the way,” Beaver told TakePart. “A lot of youth [in prison] don’t get visits, don’t get the attention that they need. But they were just like me — I want some attention, I’m young, and I want to be loved. They didn’t have that support system.”

Two years after his release at 22, the Richmond, Virginia, native is dedicating his life to changing the way kids like him interact with the juvenile justice system. Since last May, he has worked with RISE for Youth, a project of the Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center focused on community alternatives to youth incarceration.

“We need a continuum of alternatives to incarceration that keep our youth connected, not just punish them,” Beaver said.

During the seven years he was incarcerated, Beaver was transferred between various detention centers and youth facilities in his state, but he spent significant chunks of time at both Bon Air Juvenile Corrections Center and Beaumont Juvenile Corrections Center.

The two youth prisons are among a list of 80 published Thursday by the juvenile justice reform group Youth First. The advocacy group is campaigning to close all 80 facilities, across 39 states — arguing that they are outdated, unsafe, and too large to effectively rehabilitate or serve the kids they house. The prisons that made the list are either more than 100 years old or house more than 100 kids. Instead, the group says, kids should be placed in community programs that don’t sever ties with their family and friends.

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