There is no denying that the US justice system is in dire need of serious reform. For most people, the juvenile justice system may not seem too important compared to other ongoing issues in our nation. However, it is a grave issue that involves the lives of this country’s future workers and leaders, and so it must undergo serious changes. The juvenile justice system is a term that has many definitions but all of them fail to be exact. A huge chunk of the youth in our country are confined or incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. Many of these youth tend to have learning disabilities, mental, as well as behavioral health problems. When it comes to keeping youths out of the system, community involvement is necessary. They do not need punishment or stigma. While every situation is different, families are always the key to keeping daughters and sons sons out of trouble. The goal of this reform should be to help keep the youth out of the system.
While many may see community-based approaches to juvenile justice as a novel development, those who promote them are actually bringing the field full circle. It is important to acknowledge that juvenile justice administration, programming, and policy happen to be highly cyclical, and that even when a radically divergent step from a present moment is taken, traces of the past can be evident. Over two thirds of our youth involved with the system experience mental health problems which can be resolved within the community setting. According to the article Juvenile delinquents in the Federal criminal justice system by John Scalia, approximately 65-70% of these young adults have at least one diagnosable mental health need and 25% have serious emotional issues.
A fairly large percentage of juveniles have come in contact with authorities for activities that are criminalized due to being 18. These actions raise concern among the adults/guardians in their lives. Commonly referred to as status offenses, which is/are actions that are prohibited to only a certain class of people and is most often applied only to offenses committed by minors. Examples of status offenses include running away, curfew violations, underage drinking, persistent truancy and more. Many state and county status offense systems lack programs, services, or resources to help youth and their families in critical need of assistance. Judges are often left with few options but to take a child out of the home when he or she poses no threat to public safety and may be in need of treatment or services. This decision has lead to more unresponsive results which involve family stress, reduction in the involvement at school, and an increased likelihood of deeply becoming associated with the criminal justice system. Truancy has been proven to to be one of the strongest early signs that the child is advancing for potential delinquency and moreover failure in education.
Incarceration is another proven segment of the system that is ineffective, inequitable, and damaging to children and society as a whole.Data also shows that African American youth were six times more likely than White youth to be detained, Latino youth were more than twice as likely, and Native American youth were nearly four times as likely. Data shows the ineffectiveness of incarceration in diminishing youth crime; and yet, the country is a safe haven to the largest prison system in the world and continues to spend the most resources on incarceration. Detention is comparable to jail. Placement or residential care, is another type of incarceration of children, which signifies long-term confinement”comparable to prison. Incarceration is the most serious disposition, or sentence, that is possible. The distinct use of incarceration as a form of rehabilitation is further confounded by the fact that these facilities across the US are routinely revealed to be and/or sued for housing children in dangerous living conditions in which heinous acts of abuse and neglect by staff are commonplace.
I believe states and localities across the nation should implement immediate family focused alternatives to court intervention, which have and will prove to be ineffective at reducing family court caseloads. This will lower government costs and in turn provide meaningful and lasting support to children and families. We should be able to initiate an order of care focused on congregating mental health and related needs of children who get in trouble with the law through inclusive community based supports. In doing this, an opportunity is created to grow a concrete acknowledgement around the challenges that this generation presents. It is also a chance to overcome those challenges through planned and thoughtful programs and sustained funding.