Each year, thousands of young adults are incarcerated for a variety of offenses.
We often hear about these incarcerations with debates on its morality and efficiency dominating the headlines.
What is perhaps less discussed is the true price that this system of justice takes from those who experience it first hand.
It’s not just an injustice in terms of punitive measures doled out but a vicious cycle that can take years to unravel and threatens even further marginalization for many individuals.
In fact, research shows that incarceration’s effects on our youth is not limited only to their present well-being and can have consequences long into their adulthood.
The Hidden Costs of Youth
Incarcerated youth face a lifetime of emotional, mental, and economic challenges that can have long-term repercussions on their lives and the lives of their family and friends.
Let’s take a further look at some of them.
Mental Health Issues
This is one of the most significant costs of youth incarceration.
A primary mental health consequence is the separation from their family and community.
For many, this separation can be traumatic, leading to feelings of abandonment and isolation.
This sense of loss can make it difficult for young people to cope in their new environment and adjust to life outside prison.
In addition to experiencing social isolation while incarcerated, many are also exposed to trauma and abuse while they are locked up.
Being confined to a small space with strangers can lead to feelings of insecurity and fear, which can have long-term psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These mental health issues can linger long after a person has been released from prison – leading to difficulties in finding and maintaining employment, as well as forming and maintaining relationships with family and friends.
Another cost associated with youth incarceration is financial hardship.
Incarcerated individuals often lose access to educational and career opportunities while they are in prison, making it difficult for them to find stable employment upon release.
They may also struggle with accessing financial aid or public assistance programs due to their criminal record; and those who are released from prison may have difficulty obtaining credit or loans due to their criminal history.
The social stigma attached to having a criminal record can be another significant cost for those who have been incarcerated as youths.
Many employers will not hire applicants who have a criminal record, regardless of the offense or how long ago it occurred. This can lead those with a criminal record facing discrimination when renting an apartment or applying for other services such as insurance or banking services.
This type of stigma can follow an individual throughout their life and limit their ability to fully participate in society after they have served their time in prison.
It’s important that we recognize these costs so that we can support those who have been impacted by incarceration
We must strive towards a future where all young people have equal opportunities regardless of their past mistakes or involvement with the criminal justice system.
Only then will we be able to create a fairer world for everyone involved in the juvenile justice system today and into the future.