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Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison
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Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  205 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
When teenagers scuffle during a basketball game, they are typically benched. But when Will got into it on the court, he and his rival were sprayed in the face at close range by a chemical similar to Mace, denied a shower for twenty-four hours, and then locked in solitary confinement for a month.

One in three American children will be arrested by the time they are twenty-thr
Hardcover, 365 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by The New Press (first published May 28th 2014)
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Lisa Vegan
Except for Thanksgiving weekend, Labor Day weekend is the most difficult holiday weekend for me, so this wasn’t a good time for me to be reading this book, but I guess it was good timing to finally finish it. I found it utterly devastating, though it’s such an important book, and thankfully it does offer hope and excellent suggestions in the final sections. Thank goodness viable alternatives to what is the norm are provided. Otherwise, the book would be nothing but tortuous.

My feelings about hu
Jun 21, 2014 Constance rated it really liked it
Much like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, I went into the book curious and eager to learn, and came out of the book with furor in my belly. The statistics Bernstein cites in the book about recidivism, costs, and abuse in prison are astonishing. Having lived in the U.S. for the past ten years, I have become somewhat ingrained in the culture of punishment and the so-called law and order. I hope this book can mark the start of a much needed culture change and understanding toward juvenile ...more
Carol E.
Oct 12, 2014 Carol E. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle-books
This non-fiction book was very disturbing, but also a very important read. It tells the real story of what has been going on in juvenile detention over the years in America. It is HARD to read because of the violence and abuse perpetrated against our children. The author interviewed many children who had been or currently were in the system. Their stories are heart-wrenching.

The system is in a huge mess. It reveals euphemistic language we use that makes us think we are "helping" children who are
Feb 28, 2014 Jed rated it it was amazing
An empathic, well-written and deeply researched look at the American juvenile detention system. Could have been called "Teenage Gulag"; Bernstein shows us the worst abuses that juvenile prisons are prone to, but also shows us that even the "best" facilities fail our children and betray any notion of justice--there is no right way to lock up a child.
Dec 11, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing
This is a very important book. The author proposes not only reform, but an end to juvenile incarceration altogether. And she has done her homework. Every one of her points is thoroughly backed up with data from excellent sources. The book is organized into two sections. The first part focuses on the kids who are caught up in the system. It shows how the system works, with a lot of attention to the abuse of the children. The second part details recent reforms and new approaches, explores ideas ...more
Aug 23, 2014 Elaine rated it really liked it
This book is sometimes very difficult to read because of the graphic brutality endured by children incarcerated in this country -- harsh beatings, sexual abuse, long stints in isolation. Bernstein intersperses Department of Justice reports and grim statistics with moving stories of kids who are or have been incarcerated -- many of whom she worked with at a youth newspaper in the Bay Area. She concludes the system is so broken it cannot be reformed -- and illuminates some places (Red Wing, ...more
Jan 16, 2016 Jocelyn rated it it was amazing
This is a really uncomfortable book to read, and that's the point that Bernstein makes over and over – if it's hard for us to hear about, if it's hard for the guards to survive, imagine what the system is like for the children who live there. The author does a good job of convincing us that the system is even worse than we thought in Part 1, and in Part 2 she makes it clear that reform is impossible for a system this badly damaged, that it has to be completely dismantled and something else built ...more
Oct 25, 2015 Annika added it
I started reading this book a few weeks ago for an AP Lang class, but it started to grow into something more than just a project I had to do for school. It was not at all what I expected it to be. This piece is incomprehensibly heartbreaking, but also resolutely hopeful.
I strongly recommend this book.
Jul 13, 2014 Louise rated it it was amazing
This is a very important book. It makes a case that the juvenile prison system can't and shouldn't be reformed but rather closed with most youth placed in alternative programs.
Aug 25, 2014 Pamh1955 rated it it was amazing
A must read for every American that gives a damn about children. Sad, motivating and eye popping information.
As with my reaction to Jesymn Ward's Men We Reaped: A Memoir, I don't feel like assigning this book "stars" is appropriate. I know I shouldn't alter or doubt my reaction to it based on other GoodReads reviews. Still, other people's high praise for this book makes me pause, because I feel like my reaction to the book is flawed because of me, not the book itself.

I do wish, oddly enough, that this book was actually more dry, much more research-based and much less personal-relatioship-based, and al
Sep 30, 2016 Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: real-life
I don't even have words. Except to say everyone should read this. Everyone.
Wynne Kontos
Aug 06, 2015 Wynne Kontos rated it it was ok
I'll admit I didn't finish this....shamefully, I admit it!
It's a subject matter I have personal and professional experience with. When I began my social work career eight years ago (OMG almost a decade, forget about it!) I was at a juvenile detention center. I also did my Bachelors practicum for my BSW at a lockdown facility in the Midwest.
Since moving to New York where I received my Masters and am now in practice, I am also familiar with many of the policy makers and political figures that Nell
Dec 14, 2014 Amy rated it really liked it
This is an eye-opening but VERY disturbing book about the abuses of the juvenile justice system in America. In fact there were times I almost felt I couldn't read any more (very graphic explanation of physical and sexual abuse, the cruel treatment of solitary confinement, etc), but I'm glad I pushed through. Most of the issues covered in this book I really had no idea about. The extent of the brutal treatment that so many receive in the juvenile facilities, and the lengthy history of abuses ...more
Anna Gallegos
Dec 21, 2014 Anna Gallegos rated it really liked it
In light of the recent protests regarding law enforcement’s treatment of minorities, this book is a must read. Nell Bernstein takes the reader through the history of juvenile prisons, how they treat children like hardened criminals instead of lost souls in need of reform and why poor minority children are far more likely to end up behind bars.

Bernstein approaches the subject of incarcerating children from a point of advocacy instead of journalism considering how closely she has worked with kids
Gail Smith
Aug 27, 2016 Gail Smith rated it it was amazing
This devastating, meticulous review of the juvenile justice system and how we arrived where we are today in the U.S. is a must-read for anyone who cares about justice. Bernstein weaves history together with the stories of the young people who courageously shared their experiences with her. She makes a deeply compelling case as to why we have to end juvenile prisons, which do terrible harm to the youth they lock up and actually increase crime, making our communities less safe. If you work with ...more
May 27, 2016 Hannah rated it it was amazing
Unlike many books on the prison industrial complex, Burning Down the House ends with an argument against reform as the ultimate goal (because we're gonna burn the whole house down). If I wasn't already pro-abolition, I think I would be after reading this book, as Bernstein makes the case that "incarceration is intrinsically traumatizing." This book is also less academic and more narrative-based than I expected, which I think is way more effective at stirring up some empathy in our "tough on crim ...more
Nov 06, 2015 Zach rated it really liked it
Imagine my own son, almost 10, walking down the street in his own neighborhood. Imagine a police officer stopping him, questioning him, without my consent or any reasonable suspicion. Imagine him locking my son up for running away from said questioning. Imagine my son, almost 10, not quite, locked up in a juvenile facility for running away, for disorderly conduct, for stealing a bike. Imagine the guards given free reign to discipline my son, including putting him in an isolation cell for 24, 48, ...more
Jul 09, 2014 Rebecca rated it really liked it
It is counterproductive to allow poor treatment in the name of rehabilitation, and to allow those in charge to get away with it. It is also counterproductive to not honestly admit there are those who cannot or will not be helped. Society can't fix the parenting failures of everyone, these failures reach across all income and ethnic types. But focusing on small segments and labeling them as the main issues while eliminating others is foolish. Affluenza can't be an get out of jail card for the ...more
Feb 04, 2015 Karen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Karen by: Jenni Laidman
Compelling, disturbing book. A look at juvenile prisons in the United States, who we incarcerate, what their offenses are, the horrible treatment they receive, and the poor results our existing methods bring about. Bernstein shows that despite statistics that show juvenile prisons are not the answer, we persist in sending our children to them. This book should be read by everyone.

Unfortunately, I do not know how to make a change in the juvenile "justice"system. Bernstein does spend considerable
Jul 06, 2015 Linnaea rated it it was amazing
A well written book about Juvenile Prison in America with case studies from New York, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Florida. If you've read: The White House Boys or Raised by the Courts, the Florida stories aren't surprising, heartbreaking and disgusting yes. There is a brief history of juvenile prison both with the idea of "other children" and "super prisoners," and an understanding of how our country got to this point. The book is non-fiction and the reportive language does not hide the ...more
Thomas Stevenson
Dec 05, 2014 Thomas Stevenson rated it liked it
In a country with the highest percentage of its population in prison, it is hardly surprising that in the absence of adults we have turned to incarcerating children. Juvenile prisons have as many problems as adult prisons but are at the same time worse. Children need a great deal more than to be locked in cells, often in solitary confinement.
Many years ago the psychologist Harry Harlow did experiments (very cruel experiments I think) with monkeys in which they were taken from the mothers and le
Rachel Blom
Sep 15, 2014 Rachel Blom rated it really liked it

Talk about a book that opens your eyes. I never knew how much suffering goes on in juvenile prisons, but after reading this book I know more than I may have wanted. It's a well researched, heartbreaking, chilling portrait of how America treats young offenders - and I'm using that last term loosely, since a lot of them don't even belong in prison. The statistics about how race plays a role in decisions to lock up young people shocked me most, as did the accounts of kids who were raped, abuse
Oct 24, 2014 Katrina rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
Everyone should read this book.

Not that it's a great read. It's disturbing, depressing, and incredibly disheartening. But it is one of those important books that makes you see the world as it really is.

This book, while sucking your soul of all happiness, doesn't give many ways to help fix the problem! And it IS a problem. That would be my only criticism for this book. I wish I left with a feeling like there was something to be done to make the situation better. You can't help but feel sad and po
Apr 04, 2016 Kirsten rated it it was amazing
If you need more information on why institutions are horrible and horrifying, reforms are generally inadequate (to say the least) and how our country continues to treat children in disgusting ways, this is your book. I continue to be appalled by the excuses we make for our system of "justice" that seeks to avoid the one truth: we think we can treat "other people's children" as if they lack any and all humanity. And in so doing, we clearly take away our own. I'm glad I read this book, but I am so ...more
Nov 16, 2014 Megan rated it it was amazing
This book should be read by everyone; it is a damning expose of the industry of juvenile prisons in this country (I won't dignify them with the term "treatment center" or "facility"). As the writer profiles some of the reformers in this system, she asks us the very, very simple question: What if this were YOUR child? What if it were your child left naked on the floor of a freezing, windowless cell? Forced to fight with another kid while guards watched? Fed a "vitamin loaf" while in solitary ...more
Dorothy Greco
Nov 26, 2014 Dorothy Greco rated it it was amazing
Heartbreaking, compelling, & maddening. Burning Down the House is all of this and more. I picked this book up during the events in Ferguson, after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. That our country could allow such intense breaches of basic human rights (i.e. abuse of solitary confinement, sexual abuse by the guards) to happen to our youth is staggering. Bernstein is a great journalist, has tremendous empathy for these young adults, and somehow avoids spiraling into despair. ...more
Judy Preston
Mar 02, 2015 Judy Preston rated it it was amazing
I could not put this book down. After spending 20 years investigating horrific conditions in juvenile facilities all over the United States (some of the investigations are discussed in this book), I had decided that the best thing we could do for our children is shut them all down. Which is exactly the position of Bernstein's thoroughly documented book. She is trying to spark a movement. Sign me up.
Eleanore M.
Dec 31, 2015 Eleanore M. rated it liked it
While this book was fantastically, painfully informative, and a very important read, it could have been a third the length. Bernstein has a habit of repeating everything she says in slightly different ways until each page feels like deja vu. By the end of it, there was no new information - it was just recaps, rehashing, repeating.

Still - at least give this a try. If nothing else, you'll want to write your senator and demand that juvenile prisons be shut down.
May 12, 2016 Landon rated it it was amazing
Awesome book about the problems of the juvenile justice system. Made me want to become involved in the Criminal Justice system. Work with teenagers but that's something my girlfriend will be going to school for but this book is definitely good. And I think a lot of people should read it no matter what age. (Elementary, High, Middle, Adult) lol. Check it out if you want.
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“These are the lessons young people who are locked up learn instead: to close off their emotions, shut down their intellect, quell their individuality, avoid forming connections, and view all interactions through the prism of Power.” 1 likes
“Only a handful of states, it turns out, have not been determined to have systematically brutalized the youth in their care. A review of all fifty states found only eight where there was not conclusive evidence of system-wide mistreatment.” 0 likes
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