October 31, 2019

What does “confinement” mean in the context of PREA and juvenile facilities?


The term “Juvenile facility” is defined in the PREA standards as “a facility primarily used for the confinement of juveniles pursuant to the juvenile justice system or criminal justice system.” See PREA standard 115.5. Emphasis added. The term “confinement” is broad in scope. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) interprets the term “confinement” in the PREA juvenile facilities context to include placement of a juvenile, either directly or as a condition of disposition or sentencing, in a residential (overnight) facility, pursuant to delinquency or criminal justice involvement, where the juvenile may face a juvenile justice or criminal justice consequence or sanction for unauthorized departure from the facility.[1] 

The PREA standards include explicit coverage for facilities providing rehabilitation and treatment services. For example, “community confinement facilities” include facilities that provide services such as a “community treatment center… [a] mental health facility, [an] alcohol or drug rehabilitation center, [facilities that provide] vocational training, treatment, and educational programs…” See PREA standard 115.5. When a facility meets the definition of both a “community confinement facility” and “juvenile facility,” the “juvenile facility” standards apply. See related FAQ.

The PREA standards also explicitly include coverage for facilities that are not “secure.” The juvenile facility standards apply to facilities falling under the broad definition of “juvenile facility.” By contrast, the term “secure juvenile facility” is a narrower subset of all “juvenile facilities,” and applies in both hardware-secure and staff-secure settings. See PREA standard 115.5. The standards place two additional requirements on “secure juvenile facilities,” including a minimum staffing ratio requirement, and a requirement for unannounced supervisory rounds. See PREA standards 115.313(c)&(e). The juvenile facility standards also include explicit references to traditionally non-secure facilities, such as “group homes,” if such homes otherwise qualify under the definition. See PREA standard 115.315(d).[2]

The PREA statute defines a “prison” to include, among other things, “any juvenile facility used for the custody or care of juvenile inmates.” See 34 U.S.C. s. 30309(7)(b). Emphasis added. The inclusion of the phrase “or care” suggests an acknowledgment that states identify a variety of purposes for confining juveniles within the spectrum of delinquency interventions, including rehabilitation and treatment.

Federal courts routinely find and uphold determinations that placements of youth pursuant to juvenile justice and criminal justice systems in treatment and rehabilitation facilities to fall within the meaning of “confinement,” for purposes of applying federal sentencing guidelines.[3]

[1]                By contrast, DOJ has explicitly exempted traditional foster care from coverage under the PREA standards, even when used exclusively to house justice-involved youth. See the related FAQ.

[2]                “In facilities (such as group homes) that do not contain discrete housing units, staff of the opposite gender shall be required to announce their presence when entering an area where residents are likely to be showering, performing bodily functions, or changing clothing.”

[3]           See U.S. v. Hanley, 906 F.2d 1116 (6th Cir., June 28, 1990) (delinquency related commitment to Michigan Department of Social Services, and placement in Shiloh Family Home considered prior “confinement”); U.S. v. Kirby, 893 F.2d 867 (6th Cir., Jan. 16, 1990) (custodial commitment to Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources for seven months considered “imprisonment,” federal law applies to determination); U.S. v. McNeal, 175 Fed. Appx. 546 (3rd Cir. Apr. 11, 2006) (delinquency related commitment to Abraxas Leadership Development Program considered “confinement,” and a sentence to a juvenile detention institution, or to the custody of a state agency, where a juvenile is not free to leave for more than 60 days, was sentenced to “confinement”); U.S. v. Davis, 929 F.2d 930 (3rd Cir., Apr. 2, 1991) (indeterminate sentence to Glen Mills School “where he was not free to leave” was sentenced to “confinement”); U.S. v. Williams, 891 F.2d 212 (9th Cir., Dec. 6, 1989) (“juveniles who are sentenced to juvenile hall are not free to leave…although the purpose of juvenile sentencing is rehabilitative rather than strictly punitive, the effect is nonetheless to deprive the juvenile of liberty…[W]e find that commitment to juvenile hall is a form of confinement.”).


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