“Imprisonment is an injury regardless of how you justify it.”
—Star Trek: The Next Generation (Allegiance)
In the United States, we deal with teenagers through carceral methods. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, our criminal justice system is responsible for incarcerating 728,280 children in 2018 (CDF, 2020). They cite that, on any given day, over 40,000 children were held in residential placement in 2017; this statistic is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, who now estimate that number to be closer to 60,000 (ACLU, 2021a; CDF, 2020). The use of police in our education system has become so normalized that public schools are more likely to contain a law enforcement official than a school counselor, nurse, social worker, or psychologist (ACLU, 2021b). Within our education system itself, detention is commonly used as a method of social control within the school biosphere. Outside of the institutions of criminal justice and education, punitive measures recur even in the home through the use of parenting tactics like grounding and corporal punishment. These practices are highly indicative of a culture centered in carceralism.
Though this practice has firm rooting in public institutions like the criminal justice and education, and even the American household, there is also a vast private sector market for incarcerating teens. For the last half-century, a network of privately funded, for-profit, juvenile residential programs has operated in the United States with low government oversight or federal regulations. This network of privately funded programs, colloquially and henceforth referred to as the troubled teen industry (TTI), consists of a variety of private residential behavior modification programs geared toward treating ‘troubled teens’ with a regimen of tough love.