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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Juvenile delinquency 

Tuesday, 07 November 2017 14:23
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For over a century, states have believed that the juvenile justice system was a vehicle to protect the public by providing a system that responds to children who are maturing into adulthood. States recognize that children who commit crimes are different from adults: as a class, they are less blameworthy, and they have a greater capacity for change. To respond to these differences, states have established a separate court system for juveniles, and they have created a separate, youth-based service delivery system that is different than that provided to adults. Today's juvenile justice system still maintains rehabilitation as its primary goal and distinguishes itself from the criminal justice system in important ways. With a few exceptions, in most states delinquency is defined as the commission of a criminal act by a child who was under the age of 18 at the time; most states also allow youth to remain under the supervision of the juvenile court until age 21. In lieu of prison, juvenile court judges draw from a range of legal options to meet both the safety needs of the public and the treatment needs of the youth. Unlike adult criminal proceedings, juvenile court hearings are often closed to members of the public and records are often confidential, protecting children from carrying the burdens of their delinquent activity into adulthood. (However, despite what many people believe, juvenile records in most jurisdictions are not automatically sealed or expunged). Educational and therapeutic programming may be provided in the child's community or the child may be placed out of the home in a residential program. Over the past decade, advocates, families, researchers, the media, and key public officials have shined a light on what happens to youth when they are sent to large prison-like facilities far away from their homes and communities. Extensive research and personal stories made clear that the traditional "corrections" approach was actually causing harm to young people and that new community-based models were highly effective at producing positive outcomes. As a result, policy makers began to question the long-held views about juvenile justice, realizing that spending billions of taxpayer money on punitive systems actually prevents young people from moving beyond delinquency. Concerns over cost and youth well-being helped to substantiate the need to reduce unnecessary incarceration, dramatically improve existing juvenile facilities, and shift public resources toward local communities. While the "close-to-home" trend is good news, these efforts have not necessarily resulted in systematic, sustainable ways to address delinquency. Now that we have succeeded in bringing more youth back to local jurisdictions, we need to develop effective ways to demonstrate that youth are actually better off and find ways to explain why that is so. Building on our earlier advocacy, we must measure what we are doing, determine whether it is producing the outcomes we consider important, and use this information to inform further improvements to our system. We must subject institutional settings and community options to the same kind of rigor with respect to outcomes as we would any other kind of service or program. Perhaps with the success in moving more youth back to community settings, we must set up ways to measure what we are doing with them and whether it is working. In the past, focus was on measuring what was wrong. Our challenge today is how to measure what we are doing right and how effectively we are equipping young people to be successful in their communities. Our outcome measures should be less deficit-based - simply counting arrests or recidivism rates - and more focused on measures of success. Indeed to a large degree, weak oversight and monitoring in juvenile facilities allowed horrible conditions to develop and persist, eventually giving rise to successful reform efforts. As we move forward, we must insist that independent oversight for facilities is strong and that effective enforcement mechanisms are in place. It should not take a lawsuit or high-profile tragedy to fix institutional problems. If we really want to help young people move on to successful, productive lives, we need to develop systems that provide effective oversight and guidance, hold programs accountable for achieving desired outcomes, and build on the strengths of each young person.

 


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