Youth in society today are faced with many challenges: poverty, substance abuse, lack of parental guidance, lack of education and so much more. These same challenges are associated with how youth are continuously getting involved in the juvenile justice system. Many are lured into a life of crime due to trying to find a means of survival, for complex needs that are not being met, which leads to maladaptive behaviors.
What we often see in the juvenile justice system is that behaviors create a path of self- destruction that leads to juvenile delinquency and repeated recidivism. According to a 2016 publication from the Juvenile Justice Network, 66% of juveniles released from secure custody do not return to school.
Research has shown that a vast majority of the youth who drop out of school had issues with attendance, behavior and academics. The reality is, in most cases, all three are major factors that contribute to youth being disengaged in their school setting. This places them at a higher risk of falling behind in school or making the choice to drop out. The probability is that dropouts involved in the juvenile justice system are more likely to remain involved or go deeper within the system as they continue to struggle to overcome their own personal challenges.
The question is how can we — as advocates, clinical staff and juvenile justice staff — change these maladaptive behaviors and conquer the challenges our youth face to reverse the pipeline? We, first and foremost, must invest in developing alternative solutions that will be beneficial in redirecting youth in a positive direction. The solution should involve educational placement, addressing unmet needs and trauma-informed care.
It is also important to build rapport with the individual. When rapport is built and trust is there, youth are open to discuss their issues. This allows individuals to identify the underlying need that is driving the maladaptive behavior.
Youth need safe environment, different perspectives
As a system, instead of criminalizing youth who enter the juvenile justice system, it is important to work together as a community to provide needed services, to develop community engagement to help combat the issues that lead to delinquency. We must collaborate and build strong relationships with school administration, social services, parents and other community organizations to establish alternative solutions to meet the needs of the youth at risk of failing due to delinquency.
Providing an educational environment, teaching life skills and career readiness course helps give youth a different perspective. Creating alternative environments will help youth develop knowledge and skills to overcome their challenges that should include coping and stress management, social skills, communication skills and literacy.
However, the overall goal is providing a safe and supportive environment that helps youth begin to break down their barriers and overcome challenges that are hindering them from success. Within this environment, youth should be encouraged, learn to gain and maintain respect for themselves and others, experience positive engagement and influence, and work toward building trusting relationships. These positive attributes increase the success rates for youth involved in juvenile delinquency by improving attendance, achieving academically and reducing recurrent recidivism.
In 2017, Madison County Youth Court in Madison County, Miss., created a disposition alternative aimed at helping juveniles in the justice system change the direction of their future. Madison County Jobs4Youth was created to help break the school-to-prison pipeline to offer needed services to failing or out-of-school youth in the juvenile justice system. Under the direction of the Court, the program provides youth with opportunities for internships with local businesses.
Before being placed in an internship, youth have the opportunity to gain educational skills, career readiness skills and guidance counseling. The program’s overall goal is to change the trajectory of life for out-of-school youth who are involved with the juvenile justice system.
Working toward reversing the school-to-prison pipeline involves challenges for all involved. However, we must continue to work toward breaking down the barriers to success. In doing so, it is important to promote positive change within the family and decrease negative influences. We want youth to learn that their thoughts and feelings drive their actions. The most effective thing we can do is to help youth overcome their own challenges and develop a sense of self-worth.
LaTibbie Cavett is the program director for Madison County Jobs4Youth. She believes that change happens when people are given the guidance they need to draw on their own strengths and realize their potential to live fulfilling, happy lives.