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Future Directions of Juvenile Corrections
The Failing Juvenile Correction System in America
History, Statement of the Problem, and Proposed Solutions
One of society's most difficult problems to solve is that of crime, and juvenile crime is a particularly difficult situation. The current juvenile correction system has many failings, and it is not improving society or curbing crime. Juveniles are being abused emotionally, physically, and sexually in detention facilities. This report introduces readers to the situation, gives a historical overview of how juvenile corrections has evolved in America, and states the problems that currently plague the system. Proposed improvements for the system, as well as examples of current programs and initiatives being taken to improve juvenile corrections, are given as well.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ii Abstract iii.Table of Contents
v Historical Perspective
Statement of the Problem vii....Proposed Future Directions viii...Summary and Conclusion
Crime has existed since the beginning of defined civilization, and how to curb criminal behavior has been one of the most complex problems for society to address. There is a lot of concern today that the justice system, and the juvenile justice system in particular, is ineffectual and corrupt. The intended purpose of the criminal justice system is to remove crime from the general public, by means of one of several avenues. Criminals are either locked up so that they are prevented from doing harm to others or teaching others to commit crimes, or they are locked up to serve as an example to others that crime does not pay, in hopes that the fear of punishment will outweigh the desire of many individuals to commit crimes. There is also the hope that reprimand will come in a form that will somehow rehabilitate the criminal so that if and when he is released from prison, he will not continue on the path of crime. The justice system is intended to reduce crime by punishing only those who have committed one, and also to bring closure to victims of those crimes. Ideally, the best interests of innocent parties would outweigh all other goals of the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, maintaining an ideal system is not feasible, and the current system that serves to punish juvenile offenders is particularly corrupted. More and more, alternative treatments are being sought out to replace the traditional incarceration and probation methods that are used because the crime problem is not being solved.
There is some speculation, and a great deal of evidence, that the current corrections policies are continuing and supporting the cycle of crime, rather than reducing it. The penal system is designed to dehumanize everyone involved in it, and corruption among employees of the system and the criminals sent into the system is rampant. "Corrections officers and inmates alike have found themselves victimized by a system intent on housing criminals in huge, military style facilities, where incidents of rape, assault and battery, intimidation, and abuse of the mentally ill have become accepted daily occurrences." (Foley 2000) The criminal justice system is currently training children to be criminals rather than model citizens; a small offense committed by a minor is likely to land him into a hostile environment with serious criminals. Whether those other criminals are peers or adult prisoners, rather than scaring a misguided youth onto a crime-free path, it is likely to scare him into crime. One report about how prisoners are being punished but not rehabilitated states,"We have thousands and thousands of prisoners who should be socializing, working jobs, going to school, and being rehabilitated. Instead, these people are spending months in isolation, and violence has been accepted as the common fare." (Foley 2000) Another report insists that the system is not only failing to provide rehabilitation, but that the system is taking steps to specifically prevent rehabilitation from being possible. "Beating, raping, intimidating, enslaving and infantilizing people produces not caring, nonviolent people, but angry, hostile, often violence-prone ones." (Brigade, 1990)
This problem is not reserved for the adult corrections system. In fact the deepest roots of the problems are engrained into the juvenile system as well. Little tolerance is afforded to minors who commit crimes, even victimless crimes and nonviolent crimes. "Why should the first one be on the house?" (Haag 1994) Actually, there are a number of reasons why juveniles should be shown a different kind of correctional behavior than adults, including the socioeconomic and family conditions surrounding a large percentage of juvenile crime occurrences, and the fact that until one reaches eighteen years old, one does not have the full spectrum of rights and options that can provide alternate routes in situations. Many juveniles are actually sentenced as adults, which is completely void of logic. Until an individual reaches the age of 18, he or she is not treated like a complete people; until a person turns 18 he or she has very few rights. Despite this social stigma, "the number of juvenile offenders ages 17 and under who are sentenced as adults has tripled since 1979. Although they still represent only 1% of the prison population, more than 6,100 youths are serving time in adult prisons." ("Adult Crime..." 1997) An 11-year-old is being tried as an adult for first degree murder, facing life imprison. A 9-year-old in California is tried as an adult for second-degree murder. A 14-year-old in Virginia is tried as an adult in a school violence case, facing up to 70 years in prison. (Kinnen 1999) Many children actually serve time in adult prisons; Lexus Simans is one minor that spent two years in an adult prison starting at the age of 16 after selling marijuana to help support his starving family. At the Alto prison where Simans served his time, "a group of minors... was strip-searched in full view of the jeering adult population." (Cobb 2004) On another occasion, Simans listened from his cell as his friend was raped by a group of older prisoners across the hall. Simans survived his time and is pursuing a constructive life. However, not all are so lucky.
Most of the young people locked up with adults come out more troubled than when they entered the system. In fact, some do not survive; young people locked up in adult facilities are eight times more likely to commit suicide than if they were housed with other juveniles. But if they do survive, they are up to 50% more likely than youngsters sent to juvenile facilities to return to crime. ...Children in adult facilities are five times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and twice as likely to be beaten by corrections staff as children in juvenile facilities.... In 1982 in Boise, Idaho, a 17-year-old who had been locked up in an adult facility for traffic violations was beaten and tortured to death. (Everseley 2004)
In order to evaluate the origins of these problems, taking a look at the historical origins of the juvenile corrections system may be of assistance. The problems in today's juvenile correction system become apparent, and some suggestions for improvements in the system maybe found as well in the good intentions of certain programs for juvenile offenders that have existed in the past and in the present.
V. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The first juvenile court was established in 1899, but previous to that time children and adolescents were always processed in the adult system. By 1945, every state in America had established a separate juvenile corrections system, most of them based on theories of rehabilitation. "The original goals of the juvenile court were to investigate, diagnose, and prescribe treatment for offenders, not to adjudicate guilt or fix blame." (Smith & Meyers 1998) Judges were given a lot of freedom to choose the best way to handle juvenile offenders, rather than having strict sentencing rules to follow as they do…[continue]
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