Adult versus juvenile correctional facilities

May 3, 2021

Darya Jones

Criminal justice and correctional facilities 

Criminal justice is the delivery of justice to people who have committed crimes. This system comprises a series of government institutions and agencies. Earning a degree in criminal justice can lead to a career in public service jobs like law enforcement, politics, investigations, social services, and corrections. This post is intended to educate you on the job responsibilities of someone who works in corrections. There are a plethora of correctional facilities around the world and they all have different names for a correctional officer. These job titles range from corrections counselor, jailer, guard, or prison officer. Even though the names differ, the fundamental duties are very similar. 

What does a career in corrections encompass? 

A career in corrections can lead to a job that will allow you to provide treatment and rehabilitation to recent offenders. Rehabilitation means to restore someone to normal life through training and therapy after imprisonment. Treatment ranges from mental health services and even pro-social activities.  

Most correctional facilities in the U.S. offer programs to their inmates which focus on their individual needs and promote positive behavioral changes. The field of corrections has taken this approach for 2 reasons. Firstly, inmates are usually confined to their facility for long periods of time. In addition, government officials want to see a decline in re-offending rates once inmates are actually released. Offering programs focused on one’s skills will help that goal to be accomplished. This is also reflected in adult facilities where increased access to educational programs leads to lower recidivism rates.

All humans have rights, even when incarcerated.

A career in corrections requires a desire to help others become functioning members of society. Being passionate about having a positive influence on others who have found themselves imprisoned is something that most correctional facilities look for. As a correctional officer, you are responsible for supervising the inmates, inspecting the facility to ensure they meet safety and security standards, and responding to emergency situations.  

Further to these duties, a correctional officer will occasionally be required to escort and transport inmates. A situation in which a transport can be conducted would be for medical attention, prison transfer, or court hearings. Incorporated in the foundational job responsibilities, is the expectation that correctional officers  display a positive attitude when working, provide advice and counseling to inmates, and build rapport with those they serve.  

The difference between adult and juvenile facilities  

In this field of work, adult and juvenile facilities are run very differently. Keeping adults and juveniles separate— no matter how similar their crimes—ensures that youth are not corrupted or overexposed to excessive trauma at such young ages.  

All humans have rights, even when incarcerated. It is the responsibility of any facility to acknowledge those rights and never violate them. For example, prisons are required to provide inmates with running water, regular meals and exercise opportunities, just to name the basics. However, there are some rights that prison organizations are required to provide to juveniles, but not to adults. These rights for juvenile inmates include the right to an education, a monthly haircut, visits with family, or phone calls. Keep in mind that adults have these rights too. The difference is that an adult facility can refuse to give these things  to adult inmates and not face any consequences from their managers. If someone were to refuse to give a juvenile these rights, they can  face major consequences like lawsuits or termination of government funding. Simply put, the reason for the discrepancy is that in a juvenile facility, inmates  are minors. More specifically, they require different treatment because the brain and character of a youth is not as developed as an adult.   

In any correctional facility, there are policies and procedures that all of its officers must follow.  To work in juvenile corrections at a county level, you would be expected to follow the policies and procedures that are developed and enforced based on the best interests of the youth. The rights mentioned earlier must be met and officers are expected to support a positive change.  

Daily life in a juvenile correctional facility 

There are very specific daily job duties required to make sure the facility is run safely. A typical day at a juvenile detention center starts with a count or room check of the residents. The point of the count is to check you have the right number of residents with the correct names. Correctional officers also have to provide meal times for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. They must provide an hour or more of large muscle exercise time, supervise school, write reports on the juvenile’s behavior, attend court hearings as requested, and most importantly keep the residents as well as the other officers safe. These fundamental practices are followed by most if not all juvenile facilities.  

Having a consistent take on the treatment of juveniles will help to accomplish the goal common to all facilities— the prevention of  reoffending or recidivism. Lawmakers hope to one day not need juvenile correctional facilities, so this type of work is necessary to try and achieve that end goal. 

At a juvenile correctional facility, youth are accommodated in respective housing units based on their crimes, age, and gang affiliation if applicable. Housing based on age is intended to prevent younger residents from being influenced by older residents who may potentially abuse or bully them. Being mindful of the crimes that each resident has committed can also aid in the prevention of bullying. Young offenders who have committed serious crimes like murder, robbery, or rape are known to be very sophisticated. Therefore it would not be good for them to be housed with residents who have committed minor crimes like vandalism or petty theft.  

It’s also imperative to make sure that residents who are gang-affiliated are not housed with opposing gang members. This is an attempt to prevent any physical altercations between residents.  

Defensive tactics and staff safety 

Sometimes, depending on the facility size, all residents are housed together regardless. In this case, that department trains their officers for any scenarios that may arise. Training to work in a facility like this would require practice of defensive tactics and being familiar with their related policies. Defensive tactics are physical techniques that officers learn to use in case of an emergency. For example, if 2 residents are fighting, there is a correct and lawful way to break up the fight. Learning how to do this will prevent any further injury to the young residents who  are fighting. Defensive tactics are also taught to prevent any assault on your person as a correctional officer and the destruction of the facility’s property.  

Every county and state has different policies tailored to the community they serve, but all juvenile facilities must implement “universal rules”. These include no fighting, rioting, or contraband possession. The reason being that all facilities have one common goal— to ensure the safety and security of the facility. These same rules apply in adult corrections centers. Working in adult corrections means working at the federal level in a state prison.  

Low-medium or maximum security prisons 

Prisons can either be low-medium or maximum security. A low-medium security prison allows inmates more access to activities, and a small amount of trust exists between inmates and officers. They serve lower sentences and are usually eligible for early release if they have a record of good behavior.  

Maximum security prisons are reserved for the most dangerous and violent offenders. These inmates are very limited in what they are allowed to do on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon for maximum security prisons to have some inmates on a “23 and 1” schedule. This means that the inmates are kept in their assigned cells for 23 hours out of the day and allowed 1 hour of exercise. The reason for this is because these inmates are extremely dangerous and they more than likely have caused issues in the facility.  

Unlike juvenile facilities, adult prisons have administrative segregation and death row. These are punishments handed down to inmates based on their crimes or their behavior inside of the facility. An inmate who  tends to fight all the time, have contraband, and break other rules may be subjected to administrative segregation. This is an attempt to condemn the behavior and eventually change it. 

Know your policies and procedures  

The policies and procedures of an adult prison are created with the best interest of the facility in mind. This includes also supporting change amongst the adults, however most prisons are privately owned which means they can been financially jeopardized if not run correctly. These policies can be similar to those of a juvenile facility but are very specific to that state’s laws and mandates. For example, California prison operations would be different from the operations of a prison in Indiana. Knowing your policies is necessary to fulfill all job duties on a daily basis and provide all rights that the residents are entitled to by law.   

A state’s government officials implement different practices based on the demographic of their inmates, their crimes, and community concerns. Some communities are subjected more to certain crimes compared to others. One community might endure a lot of murders, one might see more robberies, and others could witness a high incidence of sex offenses. These differences are all based on socio-economic statuses and simply the demographic of those that reside in the community. Post-release requirements that those inmates would have to follow would be tailored so that they do not commit the same crimes in the community all over again.  

Probation and parole 

When released, an adult would either be placed on probation or parole depending on the severity of the crime they committed and how much time they spent incarcerated. A juvenile can only be placed on juvenile probation, not parole. Being on probation or parole means that you will continue to be supervised after being released.  

The goal of the probation or parole officer is to prevent the probationer or parolee reoffending. Conditions of probation or parole include staying drug free, attending drug counseling, finding a job, and keeping in contact with your probation officer. The clients receive support and resources to help them maintain compliance of these conditions.  

Some agencies find their clients housing, schooling, and jobs to keep them busy. Keeping them busy will prevent them from being in the same environment that led to their first offense. If you find yourself eager to help incarcerated individuals beyond their confinement time, this could be a career to also consider. Working in a correctional facility is a great foundation to learn how to serve this population and further support their rehabilitation process. 

Correctional officers and the importance of self-care

As a correctional officer it is very important to be mindful of the policies and procedures your facility has in place. It is also essential to provide positive reinforcement to the inmates while building rapport. Safety and security is a top priority. You need to be very sharp to successfully work in a field like this. It is important to always  be aware of your surroundings and not be subjected to manipulation by those incarcerated. Keep in mind, individuals in any prison or jail are there for a reason and have the potential to cause an officer harm. Officer assaults are not that common but they do occur, and knowing how to handle an assault situation is crucial. 

A career in corrections is rewarding and pays well. It can be stressful if you do not know how to correctly carry out your job duties. Taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health as an officer is key to a long and healthy career as a correctional officer. Neglecting yourself in this line of work has the potential to do great damage. Officers are there to serve others, but you will not be able to do so if you do not first take care of yourself.  

Should you pursue a career in corrections, be aware that you will have to go through rigorous training, stressful days, work long hours, and witness events that most people are not exposed to at their jobs. Training can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on the security level of the facility you want to work for. Some days are easier than others, but the job duties usually remain consistent. Pursuing a career in corrections means that a life of giving back and leadership is ahead of you. If you can go after it being steadfast, strong, and passionate— you will be successful.    

Did you enjoy this post?