Reclaiming Our Children’s Futures

The juvenile justice system in America has endured many trends and survived numerous attacks from its critics over the decades. From the paranoia about “super predators” in the 1990s that pushed an inordinate number of young people into adult jails, to the slow but steady decline in juvenile crime throughout the last decade, it has maintained its unique position in the criminal justice system.  In my estimation, it is still running shy of its credo of being a “balanced and restorative” system of justice for today’s youthful offenders. Part of the reason for this is that in many jurisdictions it is still mired in an old theory of behavior management that employs negative reinforcement as the chief means of managing delinquent misconduct. Despite the fact that the vast majority of offenders commit nonviolent property crimes, we still detain too many of these youth in the guise of managing misbehavior by consequences. Most of the disposition reports that I would read as a juvenile court judge contained only references to the negatives, rarely highlighting the assets that the young person may have.