While immersed in child protection work, it never occurred to me that preventing delinquency was also a part of my job.
When I paused to listen to the stories of young adults who were charged as youth, I realized how doors to graduation, employment and stable housing were shut for them because of decisions they made as a child. When I read the research on trauma and understood how it manifests in delinquent behaviors, and how juvenile justice involvement can exacerbate the trauma, I recognized the harm that can be done within that system.
ByShay Bilchik, Michael Umpierre and Rachael Ward |
Earlier this year, we urged the Trump administration to continue federal investments in juvenile justice. In the last three decades, the field has benefited greatly from federal support of research, innovative programming and evidence-based approaches designed to improve outcomes for youth, families and communities.
The renewed focus on adolescent development in juvenile justice is welcome and overdue. Adolescence is potentially the best opportunity to intervene effectively with youth to help them develop empathy, impulse control and good decision-making skills.
For so many years I advocated for teenagers who were in trouble with the law. I fought for them, not wanting them to wind up in juvenile facilities somewhere in the U.S. because in many, they were not treated correctly.
It was a particularly warm June day, and we were sitting at a kitchen table talking with a mother distraught about the recent arrest of her teenage son, who was being held pretrial at the adult jail in Philadelphia.
At 15 I know that it seems like you’ve got nothing to live for and so much to die for. From trying to come up as a little homie to living lavish with those Ecstasy pills you’re running through like candy.
I’m telling you now you will never settle the scores for those deaths. In the process of your pain you will only harm innocent people that had no hand in either of your losses.
There is growing interest nationwide in designating specialized prison space for young adults under age 25. Although these projects are often couched in the language of treatment and developmental differences, specialty facilities could expose states to a pitfall of multitiered prison systems: targeting some with superficial reforms, while leaving others out.