An increasing phenomenon in the world is the rise in numbers of young people winding up in jail. National institutions for young offenders in Denmark are operating at full capacity so much that 240 young criminals were sent to adult prisons. A spokesperson for the criminal youth office insists they are being sent there temporarily until space opens in prisons that serve young offenders. In 2007 about 164 youths were sent to adult prisons but in 2008 the figure had risen to 240. Naturally, the problem will be solved by building more prisons in order to handle more prisoners.
Isn’t is about time to return to ground zero and ask other questions. The issue is not whether to build more or fewer prisons for youth, but how does society invent new ways of dealing with youthful criminals without sending them to jail. For example, drug laws wind up sending thousands of young people in America to jail. Make drugs legal and 700,000 “criminals” depart from American prisons. Shouldn’t we examine which laws these young people break and find ways to employ alternative approaches to “punishment” that does not entail going to jail?