In 2021, there were 2,000 kids under the age of 18 held in jails, and approximately 85% of them were being held as adults.84 While some states refuse to adopt a policy to house juveniles separate from adults, many have acknowledged the immense potential for harm.85

  • Approximately 292 children were held in adult prisons in 2021, an 85% decline over 10 years (see Table 33).
  • More than half of all children in adult prisons were held in just five states: Florida, Connecticut, Ohio, Mississippi, and Arizona.
  • Children housed in adult jails/prisons are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than those placed in juvenile facilities. 86

However, regardless of their place of containment, they are at increased risk for physical and psychological harm by confining young people, cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education, and exposing them to further trauma and violence. These practices harm their development and have, in most cases, lifelong negative consequences.87 For this reason, juvenile courts and facilities are most appropriate and more cost-effective for children and youth facing incarceration, as their exposure to adult facilities increases the risk of suicide, sexual assault, and re-arrest later in life.88

Some statutes mandate the sight and sound separation between children and adults in adult correctional facilities to protect children from acts of sexual and physical violence, a policy which subjects thousands of youths to solitary confinement and significant psychological trauma. Incarcerating youth can be counterproductive in that it undermines public safety, damages young people’s physical and mental health, and impedes their educational and career success.89


"The State of America's Children 2023," Children's Defense Fund. Washington, DC: 2023.