Juvenile crime rates in the United States fell to a new 32-year low in 2013. In 2012 there were around 60,000 violent crime arrests involving youths under the age of 18. From 2011 to 2012 there was a 10% decline in the number of youth arrests for all four offenses, which contributed to an overall drop of 36 percent since 2003. In 1994, police reported 500 violent youth crime arrests for every 100,000 10-17-olds in the population. In 2008, the arrest rate fell and there were 300 arrests for every 100,000 juveniles in the population. Now, between 2009 and 2012, there are 190 arrests per 100,000 juveniles (“Violent Youth Crime in U.S. falls to New 32-Year Low”, 2013). What do all these numbers represent? A new hope in the future of the youth in the United States. Some of the main reasons contributing to this dramatic decrease in juvenile arrest rates include a shift in thinking about the best ways to handle young people who break the law, a continual period of decreasing juvenile crime, and fiscal pressures on state governments that have many people, including conservatives who supported tough-on-crime policies, looking for less-expensive alternatives to mass incarceration.
The United States rates for incarceration for juveniles are18 times greater that of France, and more than seven times greater than that of Britain. Countries like Finland or Sweden do not usually lock up young offenders and offer the youth the best opportunities to mature into adulthood. Large-scale incarceration only leads to abuse and harsh treatment for the children and teenagers confined, and it is very expensive. In fact an average bed in a juvenile correction facility costs about $88,000 a year. Putting troubled youth into extremely disciplined, restrictive, and long-term environments goes against everything that we know about the juvenile brain and takes away opportunities from these adolescents to learn new skills and positive ways of behaving. Most states stress incarceration and punishment and it is interfering with effective diversionary, treatment, and rehabilitation practices (“Building a More Effective Juvenile System”, 2014). Rehabilitation practices seem to be the most logical route to treating delinquent youth and preparing them for a better future. They are the future of America and they are treated now will affect the crime rates in the future.
A number of evidence-based practices have made a positive impact on reduced incarceration and reoffending for youth. Research shows that threatening and disciplinary interactions, incarceration, and punishment only increase the aggressive behavior that we see in troubled youth. To help our youth and continue to decrease the rates of delinquency and re-offending we can reduce the weight on incarceration and punishment and increase offenders’ interactions with positive well-trained adults that will help them become better individuals.
Juvenile delinquency has been a major problem for law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers have a goal to prevent juvenile delinquency from happening. Without knowing what triggers delinquency, officers have no idea how to stop it before it happens. In the past law enforcements reaction to delinquent behavior was to arrest these individuals. With the dramatic decrease in youth arrests, it makes a difference in what police officers are dealing with every day. It also makes their jobs safer. If law enforcement did nothing, then juveniles would continue to do the wrong. Law enforcement should show interest in the youths in the communities that they serve. Talking to them, asking questions, and pointing them in the right direction could change their lives. Police officers are role models and even can be heroes. In 2001 San Diego police officer Jeremy Henwood was approached by a 13-year-old boy and asked for a dime to buy a cookie at McDonalds.
Officer Henwood took some time and asked the boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy replied that he wanted to become a basketball player in the NBA. Officer Henwood explained to him that he would need to work hard and focus to get there. He bought the boy some cookies and went back to his police cruiser. Only moments later Officer Henwood was gunned down in his car and killed. When this boy heard the news it broke his heart and he said that his conversation with Officer Henwood meant so much to him. He said he would never forget the conversation that they had. It made a difference to him. He said that he would work hard to reach his goals because of him (“Slain San Diego Officer Remembered for Good Deeds”, 2011). Law enforcement can make a difference for our youth and through these efforts reduce delinquency and make their jobs easier.
Juvenile courts and probation play a central role in the management of juvenile justice in the United States. Any policies and programs pushed by these units greatly define the Nation’s response to juvenile crime. In 1996 1.76 million delinquency cases were handled by U.S. courts and juvenile probation officers had contact with almost every one of those cases. While rates have decreased since 1996, it still puts a huge weight on both units (“Overview”, 1999). While it might cost more to rehabilitate and treat all juvenile offenders at first, the number of reoffenders would decrease drastically. They could be taught how to use the skills they were born with, learn new skills, and learn how to be successful in life. Eventually the weight would not only be off of the court and probation system, but also off of the rehabilitation programs.
Another unit in the justice system that would be affected by rehabilitation is corrections. Currently correction facilities do offer some sort of rehabilitation for those inmates who choose it or have no choice. Because of high demands, not every delinquent can receive the specific treatment that they need. If rehabilitation took priority in the first place, the incarceration rates would certainly decrease and these facilities could provide individualized treatment. As I mentioned earlier, to provide a bed for one youth for a year costs on average $88,000. If these numbers decreased, these funds could be used to provide scholarships and other incentives to our youth. Currently community services are used as a punishment for juvenile delinquents instead of incarceration. It usually is a method used to show a delinquent that there are consequences to their actions. Meaningful community service along with proper treatment can show children and young teens that there is so much more to life than getting into trouble. It is a great way to give back to the community and help these kids feel important.
Rehabilitation comes in many forms but its main goal is to restore the good in a person and prevent habitual offending. These centers can provide academic and vocational education, treatment programs that address violent and criminal behavior, sex offender behavior, substance abuse, mental health programs, and medical care while maintaining a safe and secure environment beneficial to learning. Programs such as these could reduce institutional violence and future criminal behavior by teaching anti-criminal attitudes and providing personal skills for youths. With all that said, some people argue that punishment is necessary and should remain the main focus of the juvenile justice system. Punishment advocates state that our youth understand right from wrong and should be punished for their actions. I think that what these advocates do not realize is what these kids are facing when they are locked up. The conditions that will live in while they serve the time on their sentence may actually change them for the worse. Maybe if these advocates spent a day or a week living the way an incarcerated juvenile does their opinions would change dramatically.
An argument against rehabilitation is that juvenile rehabilitation is unique for each individual. What works to treat one kid might not work for another. It makes it harder to treat each juvenile and get positive results. With each new entry into the system, the chances of rehabilitation for each kid decreases. That shouldn’t mean that everyone gives up hope and locks up each delinquent until they feel they have been punished long enough. What this shows is that more resources and time should be put into rehabilitation efforts. Creating facilities that specialize in different areas and placing these youths where they feel they will thrive is needed. If it doesn’t work, the information that they have learned about that delinquent should be enough to send them to another facility where they will receive the proper services. Before a child turns three years old the state is responsible for all learning disabilities. It is the job of the state to evaluate that child and provide services to help that child meet their milestones. Once the child turns three years old the school system in the state becomes responsible for the learning development of that child.
The school system will evaluate and place the child into a school that will work to improve the skills of this child. If there are no improvements, the child will receive another evaluation and changes in placement will be made. This process continues until the child is receiving the exact learning environment that they need. I know all of this from personal experience with my son. These same efforts should be used for youths heading in the wrong direction. They are the future of America and with youth arrest rates already decreasing, there is a chance for a safer future for a lot of people. Punishment can make a person angry and resentful. A child is usually provided warnings that if they continue certain behavior they will find themselves in “time out” or have certain toys or electronics taken away. Once they use up all possible warnings that punishment is enforced. It makes the child angry and upset but usually they realize that they have to be good before they are able to get out of “time out” or get back what was taken from them. As a mother I can say that these methods work.
The difference in punishment at home and punishment by law is that it is a family matter. These children are working with loved ones. When punished by the law and placed in institutions it is not up to family anymore on what kind of treatment they will receive. It can be damaging to these kids. I can only hope that more time and effort be placed in helping these kids become better people. The right kind of rehabilitation efforts can help almost anyone. Taking time to learn the problems a juvenile has and working to show them that it is only a problem and problems always have a solution, is a positive approach to decreasing juvenile delinquency. Given the decreasing rates of delinquency over the last 32 years shows, in my opinion, that our country is on the right track in helping our youth. Change has always been necessary and ways to improve are always on the agenda.
Violent Youth Crime in U.S. Falls to New 32-Year Low. (2013). Retrieved from http://johnjayresearch.org/rec/files/2013/10/databit201304.pdf Juvenile Delinquency Current Issues, Best Practices, and Promising Approaches. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/juveniledelinquency.html (“Juvenile Delinquency Current Issues, Best Practices, And Promising Approaches”, 2008). Building a More Effective Juvenile System. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.earlyadolescence.org/juvenile_justice_system Slain San Diego officer remembered for good deeds. (2011). Retrieved from http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?id=8314141 Overview. (1999). Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/jaibgbulletin/over.html
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