One advocate describes what happens in a family when a child is behind bars.

This is the fourth article in a six-part series about young people with siblings in prison. Read part one here.

The Youth First Initiative wants to help end the use of youth prisons. The justice-advocacy group works from the premise that detaining minors—whether in youth facilities or in prisons—is not just a poorly executed practice; it is simply beyond repair. “This model of incarceration is broken—it does not work,” says Liz Ryan, the president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative. “It actually has never worked.”

The United States has been incarcerating child offenders for a couple hundred years without any indication that it benefits children or society. In fact, says Ryan, the opposite is true: Incarceration harms kids and creates repeat offenders. “We know from the research that when young people are in contact with their families, they’re going to actually do much better,” says Ryan. “The recidivism rates are going to be lower for those young people.” Youth First works with partners around the country to dismantle incarceration systems that target children and to reinvest those state and federal funds into nonresidential community-based programs that allow young people to remain with their families while under court supervision.

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