Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Viterbo: "The Pitfalls of Separating Youth in Prison"

Hedi Viterbo (Queen Mary University of London) has posted to SSRN his chapter The Pitfalls of Separating Youth in Prison: A Critique of Age-Segregated Incarceration, forthcoming in Laura Abrams and Alexandra Cox (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook on Youth Imprisonment. Here (and here) is the abstract:
Age-segregated incarceration – the separation of youth and adults in criminal custody – has established itself as a legal and human rights norm. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue that it suffers from five acute pitfalls. First, it perpetuates age essentialism – the historically recent belief that certain age groups are inherently different and must therefore abide by constrictive (and questionable) age norms. Second, age-segregated incarceration sanctions harshness and apathy toward the separated adults, whom it deems less vulnerable and less corrigible. Third, age segregation helps prison present itself as humane and effective, while also entrenching its punitive fixation with blame. Fourth, in conflating protection with age segregation, this practice harms youth: it downplays the risk they face from their peers and the prison staff, overlooks the support some imprisoned adults can offer, and occasions harmful practices such as solitary confinement. Finally, age segregation, in and beyond prison, has a long and ongoing history of suppressing disempowered communities by severing their intergenerational ties. Alternatives such as non-separate incarceration, age-specific penal reforms, or more refined segregation fail to address – and in some respects aggravate – these pitfalls. What is needed, instead, is to simultaneously undo essentialism and carcerality.

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