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Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison

Nell Bernstein
The New Press
386pp pages

When teenagers scuffle on the basketball court, they are typically benched for the game. But when Brian got into it on the court inside a juvenile prison, he was sprayed in the face with a chemical fogger, denied a shower, and then locked in solitary for a month.

One in three American schoolchildren will be arrested by the time they are twenty-three, many of them for so-called status offenses--including cutting school, drinking alcohol, or disrespecting a police officer--that are not crimes for adults. Despite recent reforms, too many youths will land in horrific state detention facilities where children as young as twelve are preyed upon by guards; driven mad by months in solitary; and, in their own words, "treated like animals." Beyond these abuses, the very act of isolating children in punitive prisons denies delinquent youth the one thing essential to rehabilitation: positive relationships with caring adults. In this clear-eyed indictment of a failed institution--the juvenile detention facility--award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein shows that there is no right way to lock up a child.

Nell Bernstein is both an acclaimed writer and a tireless advocate for kids in the criminal justice system. Her previous book, All Alone in the World, helped create a nationwide movement to protect children of incarcerated parents. Now she turns her eye to children who are themselves incarcerated. She allows imprisoned youth to describe in their own voices the fight to hold on to hope and humanity in an environment custom-designed to deny both.

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