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Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison Hardcover – June 3, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Bernstein outlines the history of juvenile "reform" schools, the rise and fall of the rehabilitative model, and the reality of what happens behind bars to already traumatized teens: further physical, sexual, and mental abuse. The author takes a look at solitary confinement practices, "therapeutic prisons," and juvenile reentry. Using solid teen developmental theory and research, United Nations findings, and trauma-informed care, this title articulately sets forth the argument against the imprisonment of children. A passionate advocate for young people, Bernstein highlights teen voices and experiences throughout the book, adding humanity and insight to the statistics. Burning Down the House brings this issue to national attention. Readers meet influential adults such as Jerome Miller, who closed down the entire system in Massachusetts in the '70s, and Gladys Carrion, Chief Commissioner of New York, who not only closed down 18 state facilities by 2012 and halved the number of incarcerated kids, but also diverted $74 million to support community-based alternatives to incarceration. Teens interested in history, social sciences, and one of the biggest issues facing young adults in the U.S. will find lots to love in this book.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA


Praise for Burning Down the House:
"Passionate, thoughtful, and well-researched, this is a resounding call to action."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Passionate and convincing."
Kirkus Reviews

"Burning Down the House by Nell Bernstein reveals a shocking truth: what adults do to children behind the walls of America's juvenile prisons is criminal. If we want to change the United States' senseless addiction to incarceration, the best possible place to start is transforming how our justice system treats our children. This book shows just how that can be done."
—Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black

"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

"In the haunting voices of children shut away in nightmarish facilities, their lives defined by abuse and brutality, Nell Bernstein brings to light the betrayal of the juvenile court's promise of 'rehabilitation.' With her empathetic ear, sharp, impassioned prose, and deft use of compelling evidence, Nell Bernstein is the ideal messenger for the many thousands of children who will go to sleep tonight on a concrete bunk in an empty cell, convinced that there is no place for them in the world.
—Ayelet Waldman, editor of Inside This Place, Not of It

"Drawing on well-documented history, compelling research, and her strong sense of justice, Nell Bernstein asks a provocative question: why do we have juvenile prisons? Seizing the momentum of the sharp decline in imprisoned youth, this smart and humane book makes a persuasive case that the time for tinkering has passed. Bernstein leads the reader to ask a heretical question: are we witnessing the beginning of the end?"
—Jeremy Travis, president, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

"A riveting must-read for anyone on the 'outside' with influence to send kids to the 'inside' of juvenile prisons. This exposé of the anguish, pain, and suffering of kids we place inside the razor wires, all for a false sense of public safety, should provoke in all of us to carry the torch to 'Burn Down the House.'
—Judge Steven C. Teske, chief judge, Clayton County Juvenile Court, and author of Reform Juvenile Justice Now

Praise for Nell Bernstein:
"The White House honors [Nell Bernstein] for [her] dedication to the well-being of children of incarcerated parents."
—The White House Champions of Change

Praise for All Alone in the World, Bernstein's previous book:
"An urgent invitation to care for all children as our own."
—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family

"Powerful. . . . Highly recommended."

"[A] moving condemnation of the U.S. penal system and its effect on families."
Parents Press

“Meticulously reported and sensitively written."

"Brimming with compelling case studies . . . and recommendations for change."
Orlando Sentinel

"Serious, moving, and well organized . . . this book could help galvanize a national will to tackle such problems."
Library Journal (starred review)

"Bernstein's book pumps up awareness of the problems [and] provides a checklist for what needs to be done."
Publishers Weekly

"In terms of elegance, breadth and persuasiveness, All Alone in the World 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. But to praise the book’s considerable literary or sociological merit seems beside the point. This book belongs not only on shelves but also in the hands of judges and lawmakers."
San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595589562
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595589569
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David Swanson on June 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Every juvenile prison must be immediately closed and all of its prisoners freed.

Oh. Oh. Oh! That sounds too drastic and simplistic and revolutionary.

We talk about being reformist or revolutionary as if it were a personality choice. Yet we also talk about being scientific, about being reality-based. Unlike reactionary climate-denying racist creationists we claim, most of us, to recognize such phenomena as climate change and to act on them (leave aside for the moment whether we're really acting appropriately on that one).

The science has long been crystal clear: juvenile prisons are worse than nothing. They increase rather than reducing crime. In our failure to abolish them, we -- and not the children we torture -- are the seemingly hopeless recidivists.

We spend in the United States $88,000 on average per year to lock a child up, compared to $10,652 to educate a child. We have over 66,000 children locked up, 87% of them boys, and our police arrest 2 million juveniles each year.

A recent longitudinal study of 35,000 young offenders found that those who are locked up are over twice as likely to be locked up as adults compared to those who committed similar offenses and came from similar backgrounds but were given an alternative penalty or were just not arrested. In some states over 80% of those locked up as kids will be convicted of later crimes. Studies have found that, more than family difficulties or gang membership or any other factor, the best predictor of criminality is whether someone has been imprisoned in what amount to factories for crime.

Well, but then, isn't the best predictor the initial commission of a crime that led to the initial incarceration? Actually, no.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Helpful Advice TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
‘Burning Down the House’ written by Nell Bernstein is somewhat depressing book that talks about juvenile crime, but in a somewhat different way than is ordinarily the case - criticizing the society for the current practice conduct toward minors which instead of being given a chance to emerge from the crime by education, rehabilitation and resocialization, instead they are drawn deeper into the segregation which is usually a one way street.

It’s unbelievable to read that U.S. are spending $88,000 on average per year to hold the child behind the bars, while 8 times less is spent per same year to educate each child. U.S. holds unpopular world record as nation who put kids behind the bars at the highest rate compared to other nations, and when you learn that county which follows is South Africa, locking up children at 1/5 the rate of the U.S. this knowledge becomes even more shocking.

The reason? Besides the one that seems most meaningful - the safety of other citizens - it seems that the real reason is businesses. In fact, it is quite profitable to lock up the kids, earning from the state on account of those kids, instead giving them a chance, not a new one, but perhaps the first in their life.

Nell Bernstein managed to show with her work how criminal justice politics and prison system are profitable businesses in U.S., bringing out the story of Rooms – place of segregation where these kids are sent, all being part of known financial system from which many organizations and the individuals are living good under the banner of protecting the public interest.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By NYFB [Je suis Cecil, Charlie ET Ahmed] on June 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover
What Nell Bernstein offers in her book are just pure facts but is anyone listening...

Criminal justice politics is big business everywhere and more in CA. Prison system in this case ROOMS FOR KIDS since that is where they send these unfortunate kids to, is a financial system benefiting people who work for the system as well as the unions who operate and donate in millions to the Democratic Party. In California where Democrats claim inmates need counseling, not only none is offered to any inmate properly or accordingly, less alone to any kid. The living conditions for these prisoners, especially in this case, for these KIDS regardless of their age are so disgraceful that the courts continuously penalize California prison system with no resolution in sight. CA spends $300 million a year just to keep 9,000 inmates in prison outside CA. Regardless of race or color, prisoners pull no votes and practically worthless to those outspoken celebrities and Presidents but a money making machine to the unsustainable incarceration in CA for unions, the same unions who have been raping those KIDS physically and emotionally with no feelings or respect for human life.

Bernstein book not only is painful but more importantly it is a testimony how a political group would not even address any concerns that Bernstein has claimed in her book which are based on facts and research, not hallucination. Profits overrides social security and healthy society for few with no comprehension that these kids are part of our society as well as the future of our society.
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