When an adult leaves prison, they take baggage home with them, one can imagine what an adult who grew-up in prison brings home? A young man celebrated his 18th birthday in a juvenile detention center; his gift from the state was a transfer into an adult prison. The crime had been committed eight years earlier and by-law this inmate is now an adult. After hearing some of the risqué’ comments from the other inmates, the youth blushes. At 10, he pointed a gun and shot a family member. Afterwards he was sorry, but before he pulled the trigger, the anger conquered his immature mind. Social interaction programs should be in place when a child begins school, and continue until the child becomes a grandparent.
The United States has seen an increase in crime amongst its young, with Congress resorting to studying the problem; parents are wondering where to turn for help as they watch their child travel into a system they do not understand and cannot find help in changing the child’s path to prison. While the public believes that prison punishes and rehabilitates, our national focus should be on prevention programs because children do not belong in prison.
Until our country begins to change the juvenile prison system, the incarceration of our young is perpetuating the problem and enhancing criminology for low-risk offenders (Gendreau, Goggin, and Cullen, 1999). Advocates of let the punishment fit the crime and those that believe the prisons have been cleaned-up (Blackstrom, 2006) should review our prison system in the entire country and its detrimental impact on the children who grow-up within that system (Sandberg, 2009). The juveniles that receive a life sentence do not fully understand what that entails until they are 18 years old or older, in which magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain research has proven. This research directly affected the outcome in the Supreme Court case in Roper v. Simmons, which ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional to use on juvenile offenders. ”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted that immaturity, by definition, can mean acting irresponsibly and being highly susceptible to negative peer pressure” Hubner (2006). Our prisons are the most stressful environment an individual can enter. Juvenile detention centers have inmates as old as 18 and 21; therefore, rape is a primary concern for a 10-year-old, which increases with time. “Inmates have suicide rates nine times higher than individuals in the general public” Kulbash (2008). The public has been entirely misled when President Bush signed The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. This act requires all rapes must be reported, in hope of eventual elimination, otherwise, studied in order to develop a better understanding and develop prevention methods (Implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, 2004).
“While hard data on sexual assaults in prison is not easy to find, and observers dispute the Precise frequency, no one who knows American jails and prisons doubts that rape and sexual assault — usually perpetrated by other inmates but occasionally by prison staff—are facts of
daily life.” (Weisburg, & Mills, 2003)
However, rape is not the only concern for a juvenile surviving prison. An adolescent growing up in prison has been sexually and physically assaulted, bullied, threatened, blackmailed, and harassed. Over the years, he has learned to do the same to others. “Youths also fear one another: leaders of geographically based gangs order hits on other inmates” (Ludlow, 2008). Prison teaches our youths to “push” the rules until one is caught and punished, than the prisoner is rewarded with respect or fear by the other inmates.
According to Ireland and Monaghan (2006), another direction the juvenile offender can take is to cause a disturbance deliberately (attacking a correctional officer, staff member, or another inmate) and get themselves into trouble in order to be put under observation by the prison staff, which in turn stops the harassment. It is ridiculous to assume that this ingrained behavior that took years to learn — will change upon parole.
The Correctional Officers, medical teams, and educational staff within a prison, for security reasons, must maintain a professional distance, and cannot get involved to the point of replacing family units, forcing the offenders to look elsewhere for guidance. Moralities and normal behavior eventually is replaced with prison behavior making recidivate more likely upon release (Gendreau, et al, 1999). The Adolescents either continues their membership in a gang or ends up developing another “alternative family replacement” system that will continue upon release. These systems are not without payment in trade. One of the other choices is to continue gang affiliation. Which is not what the public would want, but the choices are narrow.
We as a country must find alternatives, develop prevention programs, change the system to protect the rights of our adolescents, and become a leading International example in the moral development and rehabilitation of our youth. “The most successful community based programs are those that emphasize family interactions, probably because they focus on providing skills to the adults who are in the best position to supervise and train the child” (Greenwood, 2009). According to Johnson (2008), approximately 48% of the population within the national prison system is related; leaving approximately; 2 million children are left looking for support or supervision.
Three thousand of the children left behind are being targeted for mentors by 2010 from a program The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched. However, the article did not mention what will happen to the rest of the children, except to indicate that prison is where their relatives are. The majority of these families have a history of abusive, with uneducated parents, and have a low-income. Can one blame the parents of these low income uneducated families for our large population of juvenile offenders? This would be difficult, since privileged families (high in-come and educated) are having the same problems with their children.
The common belief that the responsibility of raising children belongs with the parents is not being argued here; however, in today’s economy, parents are very busy just earning a living. Parents are working longer hours and at time’s they have to wait for the weekend to deal with delinquent behavior. Fox and Swatt (2008) states that there are significant time-of-day patterns for our youth to get involved in a crime (after school hours and late evening hours during the summer). Parents think their child is at home doing homework, and have no idea that the child has become a juvenile offender. This study showed that the summertime late evening hours are when a crime would be most likely be committed and states that new reconsideration should be given to the implementation of new programs and different types of supervision.
Instead of putting the entire responsibility on the parents — our nation should begin to share it. Morale behavior programs should begin with the parents, then be continued within the schools. In a study that was performed by Fox and Swatt (2008) also found that a school age child is very impressionable, and will listen to a parent and a teacher (or some other authoritative figure) as to what constitutes morale responsible behavior versus criminal behavior. Therefore, integrating these programs into grade school would have a definite impact on the child’s future behavior. Families who are at risk should be able to find parenting programs that are free or affordable, non-invasive, and easily accessible given their schedules, such as parenting classes, home visits, and enriched pre-school programs.
Mendel (2009) states that these programs have reduce delinquency by up to 80 % . The study showed that the Multisystemic Therapy had reduced the recidivism rates of chronic juvenile offenders (those who did not pose an immediate threat to public safety) by 25 to 70 % at an approximate cost of $4,500 per youth. This price is not so high when it is compared to the thousands it will cost to incarcerate that same youth.
The problem of juvenile crime continues. This table shows the rise in juvenile crime from 2000 to 2007.
Changes in Homicides Offenders in Ages 14-24 among Some States
Note: From the Recent Surge in Homicides Involving Young Black Males and Guns: Time to Reinvest in Prevention and Crime Control, by Fox & Swatt (2008), Table 6.
According to Hubner (2006) Amnesty International and Human Right Watch released a report that showed the United States gives more life sentences to minors (at least 2,225 prisoners), than any other country in the world. As one can see in the chart below our countries lead is not only in life sentences, we also lead in the executing juvenile criminals internationally. Our country now has something in common with those same countries (Iran, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Democratic Republic of Congo) we condemn for their lack of human rights:
Figure 1. This illustrates all of the international juvenile executions since 1973. Note: From Death Penalty Information Center, Executions of Juveniles in the U.S. and other Countries, (2005). The public in the United States has started an outcry of the inhumanities these children face while in prison. Congress had introduced legislature to study the situation. However, at this point in our history, 10-year-olds are facing life in prison, and several states still have juvenile offenders on death row despite the verdict in Roper v. Simmons. Our country already has several programs we can enter into the school systems, we can assist at-risk families, we can implement new programs to help juveniles upon their release from the juvenile detention centers or from prison.
There is so much we can do to ensure juvenile offenders do not re-enter the system. In conclusion, although some believe that the punishment should fit the crimes committed, there are still those who think that maturity not age should be the more important consideration. However, most importantly we should consider if a 10-year-old thinks the way an 18-year-old does while committing that crime, because saying your sorry will not be enough.