A heartbreaking and meticulously reported indictment of our nation’s failed juvenile justice policy, by the award-winning journalist and advocate
“Engrossing, disturbing, at times heartbreaking, Burning Down the House offers a seed of hope: a future where all children are valued and free. Told in the voices of children kept in cages, this book should fuel the growing movement to curb America’s uniquely excessive reliance on juvenile incarceration.” —Van Jones, author of Rebuild the Dream
When teenagers scuffle on the basketball court, they are typically benched for the game. But when Brian got into it on the court inside a juvenile prison, he was sprayed in the face with a chemical fogger, denied a shower, and then locked in solitary for a month.
One in three American schoolchildren will be arrested by the time they are twenty-three, many of them for so-called status offenses—including cutting school, drinking alcohol, or disrespecting a police officer—that are not crimes for adults. Despite recent reforms, too many youths will land in horrific state detention facilities where children as young as twelve are preyed upon by guards; driven mad by months in solitary; and, in their own words, “treated like animals.” Beyond these abuses, the very act of isolating children in punitive prisons denies delinquent youth the one thing essential to rehabilitation: positive relationships with caring adults. In this clear-eyed indictment of a failed institution—the juvenile detention facility—award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein shows that there is no right way to lock up a child.
Nell Bernstein is both an acclaimed writer and a tireless advocate for kids in the criminal justice system. Her previous book, All Alone in the World, was called “heartwrenching” by the San Antonio Observer, “meticulously reported and sensitively written” by Salon, and helped create a nationwide movement to protect children of incarcerated parents. Now she turns her eye to children who are themselves incarcerated. She allows imprisoned youth to describe in their own voices the fight to hold on to hope and humanity in an environment custom-designed to deny both.
Bernstein—whose work “deserves to be placed alongside other classics of the genre such as Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here, and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family” according to the San Francisco Chronicle—delivers an epic work of investigative journalism that lays bare our nation’s brutal and counterproductive juvenile prisons and is a clarion call to bring our children home.