“…The problem is that we’re taking [teenagers] and we’re giving up on them. We’re saying, ‘You’ve committed a crime, and we’re just going to give up on you. You’re out of here, society has no use for you.’ We’re throwing away these kids. And I have found, in my own experience, that there are salvageable young people who have committed some very horrible kinds of crimes, who are able to get their lives together and be productive members of society.” -Judge LaDoris Cordell (American Bar Association, 2000)
Judge LaDoris Cordell, a former state court trial judge who served on the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, answers from her own experience of handling juvenile cases that even if they have committed violent acts, they should not be discounted for and can be changed with treatment. The Criminal Justice system exists in the United states as a source of regulation to prevent societal chaos. By the mid 1920s, the Juvenile Justice system was established. Occurring at any age, those who break these regulations, laws, and participate in crime are arrested and sent to jail or prison. Minors, males and females below the age 18, who break the laws are arrested and can be sent to the juvenile justice system and can even be placed on trial as adults and sent to prison.
Every state in the country has acknowledged that children who commit crimes are different from adults because they’re in a developmental stage; as a population, they are less blameworthy, and they have a greater capacity for change. At first it was a very informal process, a conversation occurred between the judge and the youth. The hearings were behind closed doors, closed off to the public. In place of imprisoning minors with adults, the early juvenile courts provided youths with rehabilitation and treatment centers and a separate probation system to provide minors with education, supervision, and guidance. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court Decision In re Gault, determined youth charged with delinquency in juvenile courts to have the same due process rights given to adults accused of crimes.
Furthermore, in the late 1980s to 1990s, juvenile crime rates spiked, stimulating legislators to approve “tough on crime” policies, robbing certain youth of the juvenile justice system’s protections and moving youth to adult criminal court for trail and punishment. In some cases, these new laws severely sentenced children with death and life without the possibility of parole. These new state laws also exposed minors to the dangers and potential abuses associated with imprisonment with adult offenders. Since the 1990s, juvenile crime rates have steadily decreased, yet the harsh sentences have remained the same in many state laws.
With this decline in juvenile crime rates, the fundamental rehabilitative programs of the juvenile justice system have been lost to the more severe consequences due to the criminal justice system involvement. There are juvenile correctional facilities that resemble adult prisons and jails that normally practice adult correctional practices on youth such as solitary confinement, strip searches, and the use of chemical and mechanical restraints. (Juvenile Law Center). The Juvenile Justice system’s goal is to still provide rehabilitation and differentiates itself from the Criminal Justice system in significant ways.
Today, the Juvenile Justice system needs to provide more cost effective and humane programs to maintain low recidivism rates amongst its youth. Reforming the juvenile justice system includes implementing a mental health therapy program, change the requirements and standards for being sentenced to prison, strengthen the rehabilitation and educational programs that exist today, and establish treatment-oriented facilities in adult prisons for youths who are confined for serious crimes.
The Juvenile Justice system in Texas is an excellent example that demonstrates how the juvenile justice system’s current juvenile intervention departments are not as effective as they should be. Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. Just in the state of Texas alone, recidivism remains high in state-run lockups which are all located in remote areas because they do not have easy access to rehabilitation and treatments. Whereas recidivism rates are much lower in the county where youths remain closer to their homes, easily able to participate in rehabilitation and treatment programs. A 2015 report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center revealed that:
“Youth who are committed to Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested, and three times more likely to commit a felony when they do re-offend, than those who are placed under supervision closer to home.” (Ward, 2017)
The council of state government justice center has recently considered closing down all six youth lockups for an alternative program where the youths would be allowed to stay closer to their home cities (Houston, Dallas, and other urban cities). The alternatives to the state-run lockups to provide intensive rehabilitation would include community based programs, supervised juvenile probation initiatives, and small group homes (Ward, 2017).
The Juvenile Justice system needs to implement a mental health therapy program for juveniles. Research shows that minors involved with the juvenile justice system have mental health issues, suffer from substance abuse, and poor family stability. These typically affect their academic performance, behavior, and relationships amongst their peers and adults that lead to criminal behavior, thus landing them in the juvenile justice system (Youth.gov, 2008). Young offenders normally have multiple mental health problems, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), that are not brought to light until they have had contact with the police or court. Some youths who are labeled as delinquents are associated with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
With the combination of medication and behavioral treatments, families found it to be more effective and satisfied with their children’s treatment. Having a diagnoses or symptoms allowed parents to be cautious and aware of early-onset offending by their child. However, the Juvenile Justice system has no special facilities for young offenders and even fewer programs are created specifically for them. The policies of the past 25 years have limited the development of mental health and therapy programs for these children (Burns et al. 8).
Today there are many minors that commit crimes that are sent into the juvenile justice system in either rehabilitation programs or prison, regardless if they committed a non-violent or violent crime. A reform needs to be made in order to continue to support the decline in incarceration rates is to change the requirements and standards for correctional placement based on the type of crime committed. Although the rate of juveniles arrested and held in correctional centers have decreased over the years, juveniles in confinement compared to the years past, are still held in correctional centers for both violent and non-violent crimes.
The Juvenile Justice system and policy writers need to reform the eligibility requirements of youth who have committed violent crimes and those who demonstrate a risk to public safety. Allowing the youth who have committed non-violent crimes, to relocate to a rehabilitation center or supervised home and continue proper educational programs. These rehabilitation programs would be beneficial to them by providing educational resources, medications needed, and developing their young minds in a positive environment to be successfully functioning individuals in society.
The Juvenile Justice System needs to establish small, treatment-oriented facilities dedicated to youth who are justly confined for serious crimes. This special treatment center would provide a safe-space for troubled youths, allowing them to develop appropriately. It would grant each youth individual attention and time to help them personally. Juveniles also face sexual abuse, injury, death, and violence when they are imprisoned alongside with adult inmates and prison staff. Although juveniles in adult prisons are housed separately, it does not make a difference. These juveniles still face the imbalance of power between children and adults (both prisoners and prison staff) exposing them to sexual abuse that goes underreported.
Further, there are two statutes that the Federal government created to house juveniles and adults separately: The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 and the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. Although these exist to protect juveniles, many states still house adults and youths together, allowing for these traumatic events to occur to youths (Lahey, 2016). The establishment of a treatment-oriented facility would therefore be very beneficial and life-saving to juveniles who are imprisoned with adults.
The Juvenile Justice system needs to invest and strengthen the intervention programs they have in place to incarceration. By refining public safety and youth development by demanding more effective interventions than correctional facilities provide, it has been found to be beneficial to the minors; once they have been enrolled in the intervention programs dedicated for them. There are only four intervention programs in the United States that have been successful and have truly made an impact.
These are the Michigan Early Offender Program, the Minnesota Delinquents Under 10 Program, the Sacramento County Community Intervention Program, and the Toronto Under 12 Outreach Project (Burns et al. 2). A reason as to why these interventions are successful is that a couple of them work with young children who are at a point in their lives where interventions are most likely to succeed in deterring them from chronic delinquency that can lead to violent crimes and behavior. (Burns et al. 1) These interventions are likely to succeed because these young children are still in the developmental stage of life, where they are learning right from wrong, and can easily fall into peer pressure.
There are many benefits for changing, strengthening, and implementing the rehabilitation and treatment programs for youths in the United States Juvenile Justice Program. The statistics of the national juvenile arrest rate for all offenses in 1996 was 8,476.1 arrests of minors which was the highest rate of the past two decades. Then in 2016 the number of arrested minors dropped to 2,553.6, an extreme decline of 70%. We need to continue to reform the programs and treatments provided to the youths in the Juvenile Justice system, in order to support the trend of declining arrests amongst minors. The rate of arrested youths in the United States is declining and is all more reason to reform the Juvenile Justice System in order to continue to keep America’s youth out of criminal activity and behaviors.
Opposing views however say that improving and adding more programs to the Juvenile Justice system will cost taxpayers more dollars than they are already paying for the current system. States once spent about $5.7 billion in 2007, an average cost of $240.99 per day per youth- the cost of imprisoning juveniles. Each state varies, but reports have shown states also spend an average of $7.1 million per day locking up youth in residential facilities (Petteruti, et al., 2009). There are roughly 93,000 youths in the United States Juvenile Justice system, hinting that there are too many minors in the system to truly provide the individual attention needed in order to cause a positive change in their criminal behavior.
A majority of the juveniles held in the system are for non-violent crimes. that can be rehabilitated safely in the community, not behind bars for a lower cost. Community-based programs for youth are more cost-effective than incarceration. Therapy programs for example have been shown to yield up to $13 in benefits to public safety every dollar spent (Petteruti, et al., 2009). Although there are a large number of minors in the system, there are many small rehabilitation and treatment centers that can provide the proper attention to each youth.
In conclusion, The U.S. Juvenile Justice System has depended too heavily on incarceration for longer than necessary. It is time that the Criminal Justice system provides improved resources and programs into the Juvenile Justice system to prevent minors from entering juvenile correctional centers and prison, provide more educational resources within the correctional centers, and provide better rehabilitation programs once they have completed their sentence in order to prevent minors from returning into the juvenile correctional centers.
The annual rate of youth in confinement is continuously decreasing after serving time in detention centers, providing an exclusive window to implement these cost effective and humane programs. It is crucial to assist our younger generations that will be replacing the older generations, by helping them live a stable and successful life in U.S. society.