Youth Incarceration & Abolition

38 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2022 Last revised: 12 Dec 2022

Date Written: August 8, 2022


The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the dangers of the juvenile legal system; this should make it harder to look away from the societal inequities that are exacerbated by youth incarceration. Indeed, the current moment, including the unprecedented nationwide protests in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in summer 2020, has illuminated the power of social movements working to abolish the prison industrial complex, and, as legal scholars have argued, lawyers and law professors should engage with these movements and their calls for abolition and transformative change. Yet conversations on abolition are mainly centered on adult prisons. While appreciating and supporting the call for abolishing adult prisons, the absence of youth incarceration from abolitionist movements and discourse is concerning given the violence and disparities that are reflected in youth incarceration. Furthermore, despite earlier calls to consider abolishing the juvenile legal system, a sustained engagement with abolitionist theory and the juvenile punishment system has not featured in the legal scholarship. This Article discusses the urgent need to abolish youth incarceration in the context of a global pandemic, surveys arguments for abolition generally, and sets forth an abolitionist critique of youth incarceration using Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) as a lens for analysis. Applying a DisCrit lens, we discuss how COVID-19 demonstrates the urgency of addressing the harms facing incarcerated youth, particularly Youth of Color and disabled Youth of Color.

JEL Classification: race, youth, disability

Suggested Citation

Annamma, Subini and Morgan, Jamelia, Youth Incarceration & Abolition (August 8, 2022). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 22-37, Available at SSRN: or

Subini Annamma

Stanford University - Graduate School of Education ( email )

485 Lasuen Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-3096
United States

HOME PAGE: http://

Jamelia Morgan (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Northwestern Pritzker School of Law ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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