The "Impact" of Custodial Dispositions on Adolescent Youth

Carla Cesaroni, University of Toronto

Custody is almost certainly the most invasive and punitive sanction the modern youth justice system has at its disposal. Evidence suggests that punitive measures are not effective in deterring or rehabilitating offenders. Findings also indicate that correctional measures frequently turn low-risk first-time offenders into serious criminals by means of social learning processes. Because of this, it is often argued that it should be used sparingly and for very specific purposes. However, in the past decade there has been an increase among western nations in the number of youth being sentenced to custodial dispositions. Surprisngly, though we are sending increasing numbers of youth to custody we still know relatively little about how youth actually "experience" being locked up. This paper will discuss preliminary results from a short-term longitudinal study of 100 incarcerated 12-15 year old male youth in Ontario, Canada. Using two outcome measures of psychological functioning, the study examines whether pre-existing risk factors (e.g., chronic stress and lifetime trauma) and/or instituional risk factors (e.g., separation from family, deprivation of liberty, custodial peer relations) predict stress and adjustment during the initial phase of a custody disposition. Initial findings suggest that spending time in a custodial facility may be anything but a neutral event in the life of an adolescent. drawing on the adult "pains of imprisonment" literature, comparisons are made between how adults and youth appear to do time.

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Updated 05/20/2006