Recidivism, Public Safety & Juvenile Justice: Let the Facts GuidePosted by Malachi Garza on March 8th, 2010
A recent story broadcast on Omaha television highlighting the heartbreaking death of a system-involved 15-year-old illustrates the complexities of the reform needed within the juvenile justice system.
Everett Williams, a high-school freshman, was one of 3,000 active juvenile cases in Douglas County, NE, when he was shot at a bus stop while wearing an ankle bracelet. In its story, the Omaha television station, WOWT, featured two voices: Don Kleine, the chief law enforcement officer in Douglas County, and an adult who was incarcerated as a minor.
Kleine said the opportunity to turn someone in the right direction at an early age is key: "We have had some homicides recently that were committed by 14, 15, 16, 17 year-olds, that maybe had a history in juvenile court and obviously they didn't get what they needed."
The article continued with a personal success story from the adult, who as a minor was placed in secure confinement for nine months for stealing a car stereo. He is now “a father of two with a great job” the reporter touted. While intriguing, this success story is the exception rather than the rule. Highlighting secure detention as a way to successfully address juvenile delinquency is a misguided and dangerous notion. Instead, the policies and practices of justice must be driven by data that demonstrates what is effective.
The facts show that the use of secure detention for non-violent juvenile offenders is overwhelmingly harmful. Detention often hampers a youth’s developmental process and propels them in a negative life direction, as shown by recidivism rates of 50 percent to 80 percent for youth who have been incarcerated, according to a 2008 report published by the Annie E Casey Foundation.
A recent article in Youth Today cites a Canadian study that joins a host of research showing that both here and abroad juvenile justice systems are more likely to increase delinquency than cure it, especially when youth are incarcerated. The study showed that the more restrictive and intense intervention, the greater its negative impact. In fact, youth placed in a juvenile correctional institution were 38 times more likely to have adult criminal records.
Community-run diversion and alternative to detention programs garner the results our communities need. San Francisco’s Detention Diversion Advocacy Program has resulted in half the recidivism rate of juveniles referred to detention or funneled elsewhere through the juvenile justice system.
Programs like BronxConnect a faith-based, community-based alternative-to-incarceration program focuses around mentoring services for Bronx court-involved youth to prevent recidivism and address youth-initiated goals in areas such as education and employment. Since partnering with the courts in 2000, BronxConnect has achieved a better than 75 percent success in rate in keeping court-involved youth from returning to the system.
Outcomes like these provide tangible examples of what is possible and what young people from all backgrounds deserve. If the overall aim of the juvenile justice system is to effectively increase public safety and rehabilitate troubled youth, then the use of cost-effective community-based alternatives must begin to trump the use of secure detention.
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