Policy regarding juvenile crime and justice has moved to the center of public attention and political debate in recent years. Increases in youth crime, stories of frustrated parents seeking help for their troubled children, and criticisms of juvenile justice programs have led to demands for change in the way young offenders are charged, punished, and treated (Howell, Krisberg, & Jones, 1995). Public concern about violent juvenile crime is also at an unprecedented high (Butterfield, 1996). The increasingly violent nature of contemporary youth crime and the escalating number of young people involved with the juvenile justice system have challenged established beliefs guiding policy and practice with offenders.
Traditionally, the juvenile court has striven to maintain a balance between rehabilitating and punishing offenders. The extent to which policy with young offenders has emphasized rehabilitation vs. punishment has changed intermittently over the past 30 years. Influenced by principles of deinstitutionalization, practice in the 1970s and 1980s was based on an individual treatment model encouraging placement of offenders in nonsecure, community-based programs rather than incarceration institutions. Historically, youths have held this special status in the law, distinct from that of adults.
The emergence of the current juvenile justice system in the United States, however, began with the rise in urbanization and industrialization in the late nineteenth century. Believing that poor environment rather than willful behavior caused delinquency, these reformers pushed for a rehabilitative model of handling delinquent youths. The rehabilitative model removed the processing of youths from adult courts, in the belief that a separate court system could provide youths with greater protection. The system promoted individualized treatment of delinquents, attempting to rehabilitate them by correcting the mental and moral deficiencies in their characters.
However, in recent years, the trend in traditional juvenile justice systems has moved slowly toward the same outcome which is produced by adult justice systems. The juvenile is not rehabilitated, nor is he equipped morally to leave the criminal behavior behind. Increasing amounts of juveniles are being tried as adults because of the violent nature of their crimes. These teen criminals show all the moral hardness of an adult committing the same crime. However, when the juvenile is placed in an adult facility, the chances of him or her ever leaving the live style of crime decrease significantly. As a response, the traditional juvenile justice system offers the same reply as the adult system, which includes more facilities, and stiffer penalties as an attempt to discourage juvenile offenders. This paper, however, will examine the failing effectiveness of such a response, and consider 3 alternative approaches which have begun to show positive changes in the lives of juvenile offenders.
The deficiencies of juvenile correctional facilities are aggravated by the facilities' high costs and high recidivism rates. The national average annual cost in such a facility is $29,600 per resident. These costs vary from state to state, with the lowest costs in South Dakota at $17,600 per resident per year and the highest costs in Rhode Island at $78,800 per resident per year.(Allen- Hagan, 1991) Moreover, such high costs do not produce low recidivism rates. For example, New York state spends over $70,000 annually per resident, but the state recidivism rate is between 75% and 86%.(Sheindlin, 1994) These congregate facilities are thus both ineffective and inefficient.(Roberts and Camasso, 1991)
These traditional congregate facilities, however, are not the only available alternative. Rather then sending the juvenile offender to adult court, a number of programs and systems have taken alternative approaches to punishing and rehabilitating serious, violent juvenile offenders. These model reforms vary in philosophy, effectiveness, and cost, and often combine several treatment components with secure detention. The elements of these alternative plans include academic education, behavior management training, community service, intensive supervision, individual and group counseling, mentoring. Some of these programs mix the treatment with an outdoor setting, thus transporting the offender into a completely different surrounding in order to serve as a catalyst for new behavioral and social training. (U.S. Dept of Justice, 1994) These components can be found in boot camps, restitution programs, wilderness programs, and several other unique and promising alternatives to congregate correctional facilities.
Boot camp programs mirror the structure and discipline of military training. In line with the get tough philosophy, such programs aim to teach internal discipline and prevent future offenses by providing an intensive, rigid training camp for juvenile offenders. Some believe that a stand alone boot camp experience actually may increase recidivism…