Juvenile Detention: A Good Status Quo?

Incremental changes on the docket for a system already responsive to calls for change

By Hannah Garcia


few times, while serving a five-year sentence for a 1997 aggravated robbery, Wayne Thomas had to compete against a fellow female inmate. The contest was pushups, and the prize was avoiding the embarrassment of losing to a girl.

Notions of gender parity aside, Thomas considers his four years in Colorado’s Youthful Offender System — a residential detention program that combines both boot-camp structures and positive reinforcement for teenagers and young adults serving criminal sentences — as the start of a series of realizations that got him where he is now — a family man and orthopedic professional with a Ph.D.

There were aspects of the program that gave way to juvenile antics, like making up stories during guided group discussions, but in aggregate gave Thomas some guiding notions on life after serving a sentence for a felony and a foundational appreciation for “sweat-equity.”

“I used to talk a lot to one of the corrections officers, and he is the one who encouraged me to go to college,” Thomas said. “I might have seen some of it as a joke, but I think the idea of the program is beneficial. Relationships with the guards and some of my peers contributed to me wanting to turn my life around.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the July 18, 2016 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.