Everyone who has ever watched a movie, read popular crime fiction or who has even a layperson’s knowledge of the criminal justice system has probably heard the phrase “being sent up the river.” Its origin is a reference to Sing Sing Prison, north of New York City on the Hudson River.
The number of delinquent youth remanded to the Arkansas Division of Youth Services during the fiscal year that ended in July was the lowest in at least two decades, according to figures recently released by the DYS.
Most of the teenagers walking into my courtroom were 1st or 2nd time visitors. They didn’t want to return, and we worked with them and their parents to make that first visit their last one. However, some kids need more support and intervention to change their life trajectories from negative to positive. After seeing the same teens in court year after year, judges wonder what it will take to change the behaviors that keep bringing them back into court. Short of sending a youth off to a state prison, the options usually available to juvenile court judges include stern lectures and warnings, mandated community service, assessment and rehabilitative services, and electronic monitoring. Sometimes judges reach a point where everything has been tried at least once, and yet the youth is again back in court with a new offense. When that happens, will the judge leave the youth with his or her family and try for rehabilitation again?
These days are exciting ones for youth justice in the United States. Several factors have come together to influence the evolution of the field, including the economic downturn, a recognition that traditional models have failed, and a wide variety of new alternatives. David Muhammad, the former chief probation officer of Alameda County California, and the former deputy commissioner of probation in New York City, writes in an August 28, post for New America Media, A Roadmap to the Future of Juvenile Justice, about programs around the country that are working. He focuses on several interrelated approaches. The first, Positive Youth Development, flips the usual approach of criminal justice, which views kids involved with the system as problems to be fixed, on its head.
A new report makes the case for juvenile justice reform despite financial constraints. The study, called The Real Costs and Benefits of Change, comes from The National Juvenile Justice Network, and outlines pro-active measures that advocates can take to cut spending without cutting effective programs. Their core mission is to put fewer young people in jail or detention, without sacrificing safety. It recommends using the budget crisis facing cities and states to promote shutting down facilities by showing how much money can be saved; and using that money to fund less expensive community-based alternative programs.
The authors lay out specific tactics and cite numerous examples in Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, California, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Mexico.