What Do Teens in Prison Need to be Successful?

by Lori Howell


Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, has a unique perspective on what teens in prison need to be successful.

Locked up in federal prison at age 34 for a drug crime committed in her early 20s, Kerman spent a year living in close quarters with many women, including 18- and 19-year-old girls.

What were the three things she thought they needed to be successful?

  1. Positive attention. She found the teens in particular were incredibly responsive to positive attention, creating significant opportunities for change — opportunities that were often missed.
  2. Continued connection to their families and their own children.
  3. Alcohol and drug treatment and mental health services.

But you should really hear it from her own lips. Fortunately, when she was in town earlier this week, Piper graciously agreed to be interviewed (see above).

What impact did the experience have on her?  Among other things, it has turned her into an eloquent advocate for juvenile justice reform, and addressing disproportionate minority contact in the adult and juvenile justice systems. Now that’s a great outcome.