Ethics Regarding Juvenile Youth in Adult Prisons


Juvenile delinquency and crime are prevalent social problems in the USA. In response, the government has built jails for young adults below 18 years to curb their malignant behavior. Introducing children to the justice system at such a young age, when their cognitive abilities are yet to mature, ensures they gain little from it. Occasionally, the justice system recommends children near 18 to adult jails which introduces them to various sexual and psychological abuse. The input of forensic psychologists is vital to determine the psychological aspect of a child’s behavior before establishing a court ruling.

Case Summary

Jessica is a 17-year-old displaying juvenile tendencies such as truancy and school fighting. Her grades have deteriorated, and she is constantly in the company of other delinquent friends. After assaulting another student with a bat, she was arrested and placed in adult jail, wherein a 25-year-old inmate physically assaulted her. The event left her depressed, and after seeing a forensic psychologist, she revealed her troubled home condition. Not only does Jessica have to cater to her seven younger siblings, but she also deals with a drug-addicted mother who isn’t present in her parenting duties. Her father passed away when she was 13, and despite being in many detention facilities, Jessica has never been to a rehabilitation one.

Regarding Jessica’s incarceration, the court should adjudicate her as a juvenile and recommend she receives inpatient treatment at a secure facility. This move crucially separates her from the negative influence of her delinquent peers. Psychology principles enforce the role of will and habit in forming one’s personality. Jessica’s role as both sister and parent to her siblings has left her without her own identity. Therefore, the court should place her siblings in foster care. Jessica is not old enough to be their guardian, and her mother is incapable of the task.

Moreover, conditioning and learning are relevant psychology concepts, especially concerning Jessica’s mother’s drug abuse. Removing her from the influence of her mother would allow Jessica the opportunity to develop good behavior. Lastly, Jessica should attend rehabilitation sessions with a psychologist to treat her depression and deal with the traumatic event of physical assault. Forensic psychologists should take great care of Jessica since she is still in her formative years, and education should be a priority to ensure she has a future after rehabilitation.

Scholarly Research on Juvenile Delinquency Dangers

The recommended sentencing is the most prudent course of action due to youth’s danger in adult jails and incarceration’s impact on their behavior and the community. Kurlychek et al. (2022) utilize a sample of 16 and 17-year-old youth incarcerated in adult jails in New York. Their findings indicate that youth serving in adult jails re-offend more quickly and commit more offenses than those receiving different judicial treatment. Furthermore, there is a marked improvement in being dubbed a youthful offender rather than having an adult criminal record (Kurlychek et al., 2022). The latter impedes employment, and its repercussions are far more reaching into adulthood. Therefore, Jessica should be remanded to a juvenile facility to prevent any developmental and psychological issues that may lead to recidivism. Despite having bad grades, her performance may not prevent her from getting gainful employment in contrast to the barriers a criminal record creates.

There has been a marked increase in the number of children in adult jails over the last two decades. Youth in adult prisons are at a higher risk of getting assaulted sexually than adults (Menon & McCarter, 2021). In some states, 17-year-olds are automatically processed as adults, whereas some states convict youth as adults only regarding some crimes (Troilo, 2018). However, this action damages the youth physically and mentally and compromises public community safety. According to Heather Swanson (2018), there are state-level policies that recommend the transfer of youth to adult jails. One such strategy is the ‘Once an adult/Always an adult’ policy, which directly transfers youth convicted of a crime to adult jail (Troilo, 2018). This rule is visibly applied in Jessica’s case since she is a previous offender. The lack of parental support or close family role model has left her mentally unprepared to be a fruitful member of society. Transferring her to adult jails introduces psychological problems such as suicidal thoughts and depression, which may ultimately compromise her ability to interact with other people. Therefore, juvenile jail and rehabilitation are more likely to address her psychological needs and ensure she grows mentally and physically.

Ethics of the Case

Forensic psychologists understand a child’s mind and needs, thus, utilizing psychological principles to help court proceedings. A forensic psychologist must protect the child’s safety regardless of the severity of the crime. Forensic science is associated with the law and encompasses many different professions such as forensic linguistics, forensic archelogy, and forensic medicine (Shipley & Arrigo, 2012). In this case, the forensic psychologist must take a stand against the court’s legal directive and recommend an entirely new approach based on his sessions with the Jessica. However, a psychologist faces an undeveloped mind due to Jessica’s age with possible mental health issues. Moreover, her education is yet unfinished, limiting the comprehension of her actions’ consequences. Lastly, the forensic psychologist must contend with a marred psyche influenced by drug abuse and reinforced by malignant peers. Jessica suffers from depression due to being physically assaulted while in prison. Whereas these influences are not limited to youth, their impact is more severe on the individual and the community.

Application of Ethical Principles and Standards

Psychologists are held to the utmost professionalism and should act per the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. One ethical standard that stands out in the code of conduct is education and training (American Psychological Association, 2017). Psychologists are responsible for creating education and training programs that deliver the appropriate knowledge and skills that incarcerated youth require. According to Menon & McCarter (2021), children in juvenile systems achieve higher educational outcomes than in adult jails. Therefore, it is possible to create education programs catering to children’s mental growth in juvenile jails.

In addition, a psychologist may utilize group therapy to encourage the youth in juvenile facilities to discuss their social and psychological problems. To understand youth’s problems, rehabilitation sessions, whether in person or as a group, would help immensely curb suicidal thoughts and depression. Furthermore, psychologists are bound to the principles of justice, which were lacking in Jessica’s sentencing (Menon & McCarter, 2021). Incarceration to adult jail results in psychological harm, directly opposing the beneficence and nonmaleficence principles. An excellent forensic psychologist caters to their patient’s mental and physical wellbeing.


In conclusion, psychologists can trace Jessica’s actions and behavior to a troubled childhood. Sending her to adult jail will lead to recidivism and adversely impact the community through repeated offenses in the future. Furthermore, juvenile youth face sexual and physical assault risks in adult prisons which ultimately impedes the pursuit of their educational goals therein. Using a forensic psychologist improves the process since they know the child’s needs. Integrating forensic psychology into the justice system ensures children’s safety is upheld under the APA code of ethics.


American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and Code of Conduct. American Psychological Association.

Kurlychek, M. C., Kijowski, M. C., & Gagnon, A. M. (2022). The long-term consequences of imprisoning our youth: The lasting impact of time spent in adult jails and Prisons. Social Problems.

Menon, S. E., & McCarter, S. A. (2021). Make juvenile justice more just: Raise the age to 20 years old. Journal of Policy Practice and Research, 2(2), 119–139.

Shipley, S. L., & Arrigo, B. A. (2012). Introduction to forensic psychology: Court, law enforcement, and correctional practices (3rd ed.). Elsevier Academic Press.

Swanson, H. L. (2018). An empirical analysis of the effects of juvenile offender placement in adult facilities on recidivism rates (thesis). Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Ames.

Troilo, M. (2018). Locking up youth with adults: An update. Prison Policy Initiative.

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"Ethics Regarding Juvenile Youth in Adult Prisons." LawBirdie, 29 Sept. 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'Ethics Regarding Juvenile Youth in Adult Prisons'. 29 September.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Ethics Regarding Juvenile Youth in Adult Prisons." September 29, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Ethics Regarding Juvenile Youth in Adult Prisons." September 29, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Ethics Regarding Juvenile Youth in Adult Prisons." September 29, 2023.