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From A Lawyer's View: Youth Development Centers vs. Adult Prisons

Let's say my client has been charged with a felony, is eligible for transfer or YDC and the ADA has made competing offers: enter an admission in juvenile court and be committed to YDC or transfer to Superior Court and admit a less serious felony with slightly less active time. (Counsel should remember that community commitment is an available option under NCGS §7B-2513(e). This option would allow a youth to receive a Level III disposition but reside outside of YDC.) Leaving aside, for now, the consequences of an adult record instead of a juvenile record, how do I describe YDC versus prison to my client and client’s parents? Below are some comparisons to help describe the differences and similarities.

Number and Size of Facilities

There are four Youth Development Centers in North Carolina ranging in size from 24 to 96 beds. Younger males and females are typically housed at Chatham YDC. The four YDC facilities are Cabarrus, Chatham, Edgecombe, and Lenoir. A new YDC facility is scheduled to open in Rockingham in 2023.

There are 53 prison facilities in North Carolina ranging in size from 78 to 1500 beds. Youthful offenders (juveniles under the age of 18 who have been committed to prison) are housed at Foothills Correctional in Morganton, NC. Youthful offenders that are female are housed at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in Raleigh, NC. For additional information regarding placement, follow this School of Government link.

Case Management/Initial Assessments

Upon entry into YDC, all youth are assigned a Service Planning Team which includes at a minimum a social worker, licensed mental health clinician (a staff psychologist or licensed clinical social worker), a court counselor, the youth, their parent or guardian, and an educator.

The youth in YDC receives a suicide and mental health screening within an hour of arrival at YDC. Within the first week, each youth has a mental status exam by a licensed mental health clinician, and a full psychological evaluation within 30 days.

Youth in prison are assigned a case manager. The case manager reviews records and makes recommendations regarding services. If possible, an initial mental health and suicide screening shall take place upon entry but must take place within 24 hours. They shall be assessed for risk of victimization and aggression due to heightened risk of victimization of youth in adult facilities.

Continuing Mental Health Services

The Service Planning Team for youth in YDC shall meet every 30 days with the youth to establish and assess goals and progress. Goals should address treatment needs, education, health, mental health, substance use (if any), religious services (if the youth participate), recreation, and any barriers to reintegration. YDC’s follow a Model of Care addressing interpersonal skills and self-management skills. Staff are trained, and youth are taught, to practice these skills up to 30 times per day.

Youth in prison have access to additional assessments when necessary. Each youth is given an individual case plan, behavioral goals, and treatment plan based upon abilities and needs.


Youth in YDC receive instruction from NC licensed teachers to receive instruction leading to a high school diploma or high school equivalency. They participate in career training or web-based post-secondary study. Students qualified for special education receive services from EC teachers. Career assessments are available to identify skills, strengths and interests. Older students and those who have graduated may take college transfer courses.

Youth in prison are offered educational services but are not required to participate after reaching the age of 16. Limited vocational training is available in specific areas.

Religious Services

Access to religious services is available to all youth in YDC or prison.

Family Contact/Involvement

Youth in YDC participate in Service Planning Meetings every 30 days. These meetings involve the youth’s parents/guardians/custodians and other family members as approved. Youth earn privileges within the model of care and family members have phone contact and in-person visitation. Youth eventually can access community visitation with family and may earn home visits as they approach the beginning of post release supervision. Family members participate in the service planning and creation of goals and assessment of progress. Family counseling may be mandated with the youth and family.

Youth in prison may have one 15-minute phone call per day and one two-hour visit per week. Additional guidance to families can be found in the Prisons' Family and Friends Handbook.

Mandatory vs Voluntary Compliance

Youth in YDC are required to participate in and comply with the recommendations of services decided upon in the Service Planning Meetings. Youth are not considered ready for post release supervision until they have met the goals that have been set, including participation and progress with mental health and substance abuse treatment (as appropriate), educational goals, behavioral goals, and family goals.

Youth in prison are only required to participate in the initial assessments noted above, upon their entry into the facility, and in education services until the age of 16. All other services, while available, are voluntary at the discretion of the youth.

Post Release Supervision

Commitments to YDC are for an indefinite period of not less than 6 months and may be up to the youth’s 21st birthday. See NCGS §7B-2513. Progress of each youth in YDC is evaluated at least once every six months. If the Division determines that the youth is ready for release, post-release planning shall be initiated. Every plan requires at least 90 days but not more than one year of post-release supervision. See NCGS §7B-2514.

Adults are subject to structured sentencing laws and must serve their minimum sentence. Youth sentenced as adults are subject to adult PRS provisions. Those incarcerated for B1-E felonies must have 12 months of PRS; those committed for F-I felonies must have 9 months of PRS; and those committed for sex offenses requiring registration must have up to 5 years of PRS depending on the date of offense. See NCGS §15A-1368 et. al.

This comparison is intended to serve as an overview. Other differences and similarities may exist. For additional information, see the Juvenile Justice Annual YDC Report and the Division of Prisons Program Services Listing. As always, please contact OJD with any questions.



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