Juvenile offenders are often cataloged as irrational thinkers and even highly dangerous criminals that threaten the safety of modern society. They are placed behind bars to serve their time in the hopes that they emerged having learned their lesson between right and wrong, so they will not reoffend in the future. Far too often, justice is not actually achieved and instead juveniles are the victims; their age makes them vulnerable to maltreatment from their legal caregivers. Often times their crimes are simply trying to escape their abuser who is often a family member. While they are incarcerated, instead of being protected from harm and being prepped for life back in normal society, juvenile delinquents continue to be released from the system with a variety of mental health issues and plenty memories of trauma to reflect on for the rest of their life. Lobbying for reform in structure of environments and reentry programs in the juvenile justice system is crucial to help the youth break their cycle of recidivism.
Rehabilitation sounds like the proper solution to juvenile delinquents in theory, but far too often they are executed poorly and do more harm than good. There is still hope though, through more and more research by forensic psychologists, building the path to the right approach to juvenile rehabilitation is a dream that is becoming more and more possible. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) has made great strides in their dedication to address the issues of safety and security of juveniles within a residential environment of youth offenders. They found that, “Although many factors are known to affect youth safety within a residential environment, none are more significant than the use of physical restraints. Physical intervention with youths breaks down relationships between staff and youths, often compromising the program’s ability to provide effective treatment” (Baglivio and Olson 2013). This is only a single example of the efforts being made to effect positive change within these types of facilities.
While the elimination of physical restraints shows a thoughtful approach to juvenile justice reform, not much can be praised until the use of solitary confinement for juveniles is far in the past. There is not much data available on the effect of solitary confinement on juveniles, but it is safe to say that that their less developed brains have a reduced capacity for dealing with what is shown to be psychological torture with serious results. A study conducted in New York jails found that inmates committed to solitary confinement were 6.9 times more likely to harm themselves. Not only that, but 53.3 percent of self-harm acts were performed while in solitary confinement (Inmates in Solitary Confinement 7 Times More Likely to Harm Themselves:
Study 2014). Despite the facts, solitary confinement is still being used. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention completed a survey where they questioned 7,073 youths who were in a juvenile detention facility in 2003. They found, “… a quarter of detainees reported having been placed in solitary confinement at some time during their incarceration… in 2014 the same office reported that nearly half of juvenile detention facilities reported locking youth in some type of isolation for more than four hours at a time” (Clark 2017). This type of punishment is unacceptable if the goal of juvenile detention facilities is actually rehabilitation.
Research shows that the length of time within residential custody is not a variable in recidivism rates. Studies actually show that the probability of the juvenile reoffending again once they are released are highly elevated. So how can this number be decreased? Reentry programs are one of the most common solutions to help properly acclimate those in custody, but there are still issues with them. During a post-discharge interview, a sixteen-year-old boy named John pointed out, “I went from this totally structured environment for eight long months back to a totally unstructured home with no real plan before I left [residential]. I am going back to the same home [life] that I left in the first place.… I did all this work getting my (expletive) together while my mom and step-dad did nothing. All this time, they could have been doing something with my counselors, anything” (Sells, Sullivan, and DeVore 2012). There is no wonder John is most likely going to return to the same facility for the same or a similar crime. After returning home, the structure and routine he worked to build fades into the past and he must live in the same toxic factors that led to his arrest in the first place.
With the residential facility often being far away from the youth’s family and community, reentry programs run into the challenges of making sure the individual will continue to be held accountable and supported after their release. While it may be difficult to accomplish, a holistic approach is necessary to make the most impact. Out of this issue, Parenting with Love and Limits was born. A group of policy makers and juvenile justice stakeholders took it upon themselves to create a curriculum that encompassed parenting groups, individual therapy, family therapy, case management. Early discharge, video conferencing, and wraparound teams were utilized to connect the different facets of the juveniles’ reentry. What really made the blueprint unique was the communities were encouraged to change the model in order to fit their strengths and weaknesses. The Justice Research center revealed that those in the PLL program had a rearrest rate of 30 percent compared with the comparison group’s rate of 44 percent (Sell et al. 2012). This goes to show that not only are effective reentry programs possible, but also that connection between the different facets of their rehabilitation is essential.
An even better solution to Parenting with Love and Learning’s approach to connecting all the different individuals handling their case, is to keep them local in the first place. Not only does this allow for more parent visits, but it can also cut their overhead cost of treatment. New York is working to provide incentives for counties to expand their local treatment programs. Incarceration, particularly for juveniles, is an expensive proposition. According to Justice Policy Institute, “Each year, capital costs to build new facilities run in the range of $100,000 per cell… In comparison, community options such as drug treatment or counseling, including wrap-around services that make sure individuals get to school or work on time, rarely exceed $15,000 and often cost less than $5,000 per year” (Cost-Effective Youth Corrections: Rationalizing the Fiscal Architecture of Juvenile Justice Systems 2017). The better and more fiscally responsibly choice is clear.
In addition to giving juveniles proper treatment during their incarceration and the reentry process, respecting their due rights is vital to maintaining the Juvenile Justice System. In 1899 in Cook County, Illinois, the first juvenile court was founded, finally demonstrating the recognition of the distinction between juveniles and adults (Youth in the Justice System: An Overview, 2018). The early stages of the juvenile court were more informal and private which, while more comfortable for a juvenile than the intimidation of a proper court room, allowed for the violation of their due process rights. This begs the question, what are the due process rights for juveniles?
With the addition of the juvenile court, the outline of what juveniles were entitled to developed over time in a series of many different trials. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled youths charged with crimes of delinquency within the juvenile court are guaranteed the same due process rights as an adult offender in re Gault (Facts and Case Summary- In re Gault n.d.). While this covered both the right to counsel and the right to confront witnesses against them, the Supreme Court later on added the right against double jeopardy and the right to have the charges against them proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In 1971, however, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment did not guarantee juveniles going through the juvenile court process the right to trial by jury. Their reasoning stated that, “Were a jury—a major formality in the criminal process—imposed on juvenile trials, there would be little left to distinguish a juvenile delinquency hearing from a criminal trial…the plurality held that because juries are not necessary to ensure adequate fact-finding, as such, they are not vital for due process” (United States Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Jurisprudence n.d.).
While some due rights of the juvenile are guaranteed, many differ from state to state. Most states have some type of confidentiality laws, often protecting the identity of youth from being revealed for the media to publicly broadcast understanding that the information about their crime is out there forever and will not be beneficial to the juvenile when the goal is rehabilitation. These laws typically only protect juveniles who commit acts of delinquency and status offenses. If a juvenile commits a criminal offense, then, under the discretion of a judge, they can be waived to the judgement of the adult criminal courts. When sentenced under criminal court, the goal is not necessarily rehabilitation. In 2005, Roper v. Simmons decided that those under the age of 18 could not be sentenced to death on the grounds that it was cruel and unusual punishment (Flynn, 2008).
According to Juvenile Justice, “The stated purpose of the juvenile court is treatment of the child and community protection, not punishment as for adult felony offenders in criminal court” (Lawrence and Hesse 2010: 138). This must be remembered during the entire judicial process for juveniles if crime and recidivism rates are to decrease. Much like the education sector, a case by case approach is needed to properly meet the juvenile’s specific needs. While programs such as Parenting with Love and Limits hit the mark spot on, change from within the justice system is vital. Solitary confinement should be eradicated from both juvenile and adult prisons as it greatly increases the probability of the individual self-harming. While the juvenile court system has come a long way since its beginning in 1899, there is still much room for improvement.
- Anon. 2017. “Cost-Effective Youth Corrections: Rationalizing the Fiscal Architecture of Juvenile Justice Systems.” Justice Policy Institute.
- Anon. 2014. “ Inmates in Solitary Confinement 7 Times More Likely to Harm Themselves: Study.” CBS News, February. (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/inmates-in-solitary-confinement-7-times-more-likely-to-harm-themselves-study/).
- Anon. 2019. “United States Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Jurisprudence.” NJDC. (https://njdc.info/practice-policy-resources/united-states-supreme-court-juvenile-justice-jurisprudence/).
- Anon. 2018. “Youth in the Justice System: An Overview.” Juvenile Law Center. (https://jlc.org/youth-justice-system-overview).
- Clark, Andrew B. 2017. “Juvenile Solitary Confinement as a Form of Child Abuse.” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law. Retrieved (http://jaapl.org/content/45/3/350).
- Dierkhising, C. B., Lane, A., & Natsuaki, M. N. (2014). Victims behind bars: A preliminary study of abuse during juvenile incarceration and post-release social and emotional functioning. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(2), 181–190. https://doi-org.argo.library.okstate.edu/10.1037/law0000002
- Flynn, E. (2008). Dismantling the Felony-Murder Rule: Juvenile Deterrence and Retribution Post-'Roper v. Simmons'. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 156(4), 1049-1076. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40041400
- Olson, D., & Baglivio, M. (2013). Creating a Safe Residential Environment for Juvenile Offenders: The Florida Experience. Corrections Today, 75(1), 64. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=88315048&site=ehost-live
- Sells, S., Sullivan, I., & DeVore, D. (2012). Stopping the Madness: A New Reentry System for Juvenile Corrections. Corrections Today, 74(2), 40. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=80131985&site=ehost-live