Neuroscience has begun to confirm what parents and university residence managers have long known—that young adults are a unique population, possessing many adult capabilities, but still developing in important ways. Nevertheless, most adult corrections agencies continue to use a one-size fits all approach, with practices proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to achieving positive outcomes for young adults.

Across the United States, young adults under the age of 25 make up approximately 10 percent of the general population, but 21 percent of people admitted into prison. We also see significant disparities for young men of color—young men ages 18 to 24 are 7 to 9 times more likely to be incarcerated compared to their white peers. This age group also experiences incredibly high re-incarceration rates and poor educational and employment outcomes. Taken together, these outcomes and the size of the population demonstrate the urgent need for an approach to justice reform targeted specifically for young adults.

Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) has heeded this call and has partnered with Vera to create a unit for young adults that is marked by a culture familiar to juvenile justice reformers but foreign to adult corrections officials. The unit will be developed with these four principles in mind:

  • Safety and equity: All people deserve to be safe and treated fairly. Vera is working with the DOC to ensure its decisions are not vulnerable to bias and that the voices of those most directly affected by the justice system—incarcerated young adults and facility line staff—are prioritized.
  • Purpose, not just programs: Cultivating a culture that prioritizes fairness, choice, safety, and restoration over retribution requires much more than implementing the “right” programs or metrics. Real and sustainable reform requires systemic change that focuses on providing additional training to talented correctional staff and designing an entirely new model of practice.
  • Connection to identity, culture, and people:  Real change can only take place when young adults are able to sustain meaningful connections to their identities and culture, and maintain supportive relationships with their families and communities.
  • Healing and wellness: All people, especially young adults, must be provided with the space and support to heal from trauma, grow, and celebrate their successes based on their own unique developmental needs (physical, mental, and emotional).