Juvenile crime is still a pressing problem in the country because over two million cases were recorded in the past year. This trend is quite alarming because juveniles who are not corrected may end up becoming adult criminals. It is therefore incumbent upon the juvenile correction system to deal with this matter effectively. The paper shall look at whether the latter objective has been achieved or if there is a need for more work to be done.
Whether the juvenile justice system is effectively reducing crime
Assessments carried out to determine the effectiveness of the juvenile system indicate average or less than average results in reducing crime. For instance, the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI) which is designed to assess the effectiveness of juvenile correctional programs and hence the juvenile system looks into a series of characteristics for this analysis: program characteristics (types of treatment, treatment of offenders, and behavioral techniques utilized), staff characteristics (experience, training, qualification and stability of juvenile system staff), evaluation (quality assurance and assessment of own programs), assessment (measurement need, responsivity, and risk by correctional programs), actual treatment (whether treatment program actual target criminogenic needs) and miscellaneous issues (stability in funding, community support or ethical guidelines)
All sections in this assessment are rated as satisfactory, very satisfactory, unsatisfactory, or needs improvement with the first two being the more positive indicators. After a thorough analysis of over one hundred and seven treatment and intervention programs within the juvenile system in the country during the year 2004, it was found that only the ‘actual treatment system’ parameter reported very satisfactory results. This is especially interesting given the fact that it is a parameter that is closely related to recidivism. Nonetheless, most of these correctional facilities did not target this factor effectively and this undermined their ability to reduce crimes.
The study also found that most correctional programs did not dwell on developing positive social skills for offenders as skill-building was not a major factor. In other words, they usually dwelt on psycho-educational programs which lack this component. By denying offenders a chance to grow their skills, then the juvenile system is putting these individuals at risk when left to go back into society and this makes them predisposed to commit crimes. (Pealer & Latessa, 2004)
Studies also show that most intervention programs within the juvenile system do not adjust to meet the risk level of an offender. In other words, it is assumed that all individuals can be treated in more or less the same way. Also, the juvenile system operates in such a manner that it hardly recognizes the need for behavioral-based strategies. Consequently, it can be asserted that because of the lack of such components, very few crimes were still being reduced.
Staff members in any industry are crucial in determining the success of its outcomes. In the juvenile system, it was found that most staff members require improvement in this category. Some of them do not possess the right training for handling juveniles as their training sessions usually last for a very short time. Besides that, they lack a series of clinical skills which are instrumental in the operations of the juvenile system. Their inefficiencies have therefore reduced the system’s ability to reduce crime.
The juvenile system also lacks internal quality assurance mechanisms. More often than not, few facilities tend to collect data on recidivism. Also, a large number of them rarely engage in the reassessment of their programs. This means that the quality of their interventions is substantially undermined and this impedes their success at reducing crimes. (Pealer & Latessa, 2004)
Problems that exist within the system
Incarcerated and detained youth are currently having difficulties accessing effective advocacy. This usually entails both detention and post commitment advocacy. Usually, juvenile offenders have a difficult time getting quality representation or even accessing lawyers in the first place. This means that their side of the story is ineffectively portrayed and the system thus becomes ineffective in instating justice.
Many youth offender experts have raised increased concerns over the transference of juvenile cases to the adult courts. This usually leads to circumstances where those juveniles are treated as adults and their rights as children are therefore compromised. Besides this, several juvenile offenders may be forced to contend with low levels of safety after transference to adult court.
More often than not, the living spaces in correctional facilities for juveniles have been criticized with assertions made that they could be improved. In other words, emergency services in these institutions do not meet minimum standards in the developed world with several near-death or death incidences occurring that would have been prevented. For instance, reports have shown that suicidal behavior can be detected before occurrence and many lives have therefore been lost unnecessarily. On top of this, low-quality health care in these facilities may impede chances of capturing some of the serious health conditions that juveniles may possess.
Correctional facilities have also failed in terms of offering youth adequate or sound educational services. This implies that if such individuals will be released back into their communities, they may not possess the right conditions needed to survive there. Eventually, they may be forced to go back to their old ways as adults. In this regard, it is the very communities that failed in instating effective correctional facilities that are suffering the consequences of their inaction. (Kalist & Lee, 2009)
Some civil rights groups working within the juvenile system have also revealed that some young offenders are often subjected to infringement of their rights when placed in juvenile systems. On top of the latter, there is a need to deal with the problems of special education among disabled children in these facilities as children with special needs require access to education in the least restrictive environment.
Experts also assert that the juvenile system is inadequately prepared to deal with the root causes of juvenile crime more especially those associated with female offenders. Statistics indicate that boys are usually arrested for problems related to security or public safety. On the other hand, girls are arrested for family-related issues. But most juvenile facilities tend to dwell on reinforcing security or protecting the public.
Consequently, issues of the family are placed on the periphery and this minimizes the effectiveness of the juvenile system. It should be noted here that the problems of the family being referred to include mental health, physical health, peer relations, traumatic events, poor family relations, or accountability. For example, it is common to find that certain girls have been detained for displaying behavior that can be classified as out of control in their homes. On the other hand, boys were more likely to be detained for certain ‘typical’ crimes such as violence, theft, or even murder. (Quinn, 2006)
Several studies have been conducted to find out whether girls have special problems from those experienced by their male counterparts in the juvenile system. For instance, the Global Risk Assessment Device group found that boys were at higher risks for engaging in more offenses. On the other hand, girls were at risk for being affected by parental issues, traumatic events, health issues, and other family-related outcomes. In this regard, the risk for psychopathy was much higher in girls than in boys.
This implies that such individuals possessed a much higher chance of manipulating people in the future, interacting with friends who were also prior offenders and such related problems. Therefore, girls have started reporting characteristics exclusive to them as well as others that were initially associated with male juvenile offenders. This means that the juvenile system has failed in terms of assessing the needs of its offenders to determine the kind of correctional programs that fit them. The current juvenile system largely dwells on punishment for wrongs rather than working to correct the root causes of offenses by working with the family.
Relation between juvenile correction programs and recidivism
Recidivism can be defined as the rate at which juvenile offenders choose to return to criminal activity. This parameter is especially useful in determining how effective juvenile systems are – although it should be noted that there may be other factors that also come into play. Failure to address recidivism in juvenile correctional programs can lead to excessive costs for the juvenile system itself, reduced educational achievement of juveniles, lower contribution to the global economy, and greater degrees of violence in schools.
Statistics have shown that certain social or cultural factors make juveniles more predisposed to commit crimes. These factors include: being male, being black or coming from a Hispanic origin, belonging to a single-parent home, and attendance of alternative education. Current correctional programs do not dwell on these differences during interventions and this is eventually leading to higher rates of recidivism.
If there was greater contact between a juvenile offender belonging to any one of the latter groups and his or her probation officer, then chances are that recidivism would go down. On top of the latter, juveniles with at least one other conviction were viable candidates for recidivism and should therefore be subjected to more intensive programs. Since this is hardly done, then it can be asserted that correctional juvenile programs are yet to become as effective as they ought to be in terms of recidivism.
A large number of intervention programs in the juvenile system tend to be too reliant on theoretical facts. Such programs are detached from the practical aspects and this indicates that there is a lack of empirical research on the strategies that work on certain youth groups. In the end, this causes ineffective treatment and thus propels youth into more crime or causes their recidivism rates to increase very highly. (Szalavitz, 2009)
Aside from that, it has also been found that most recidivism rates within correctional facilities or programs are on the increase because they do not give adequate attention to the process of matching offenders with staff in those programs. Staff members all possess different levels of qualification that often make them more prepared to handle certain situations than others. What this means is that for correctional programs that have not given much attention to such an aspect, more recidivism will be expected.
Recidivism rates are also on the increase because most programs tend to focus on the punishment system rather than on its rewards. Consequently, youth tend to be more hardened by the interventions and this increases their chances of further recidivism. (Scmalleger & Bartollas, 2007)
While most correctional programs in the country have reported average performance, there is still a need to improve the effectiveness of these programs by incorporating family needs, matching staff to offenders, improving quality assessment, introducing reward rather than punishment systems, and targeting offenders with certain types of cultural factors.
Pealer, J. & Latessa, E. (2004). Applying principles of effective intervention to juvenile correctional programs. Corrections Today.
Szalavitz, M. (2009). Why juvenile detention makes teens worse. Web.
Scmalleger, F. & Bartollas, C. (2007). Juvenile Delinquency. New York: Allyn and Bacon.
Quinn, S. (2006). Juvenile recidivism and conditional release programs. American society of criminology paper, p 127066: 1-31.
Kalist, D. & Lee, D. (2009). Measuring and analyzing juvenile recidivism in Pennsylvania. Center for rural Pennsylvania report, 33: 14.