Juvenile crime poses a significant problem in the United States as there were more than 1.6 million arrests of persons younger than 18 years old in 2007 (Elrod & Ryder, 2011). Such numbers are considered high in a country where the overall population of persons between ages 10 and 17 accounts for only 13 percent of total U.S. population, signaling an overrepresentation of such youth groups participating in criminal behavior (Elrod & Ryder, 2011). Recidivism—the commission of repeat offenses—is one of the most common indicators of effectiveness in deterring reoccurrences of juvenile delinquency in the United States (Harris, Lockwood, Mengers, & Stoodley, 2011). Since recidivism is intricately tied to public welfare and personal safety from accumulating crime in the juvenile population, much government effort has been dedicated towards practices that effectively reduce recidivism in local communities. However, the current juvenile correction system in the United States is hampered by lack of clearly defined standards and measurements of program outcomes that evaluates performance of recidivism. After examining the effects of instituting standardized definitions of recidivism, evidence-based and alternative programs and prevention techniques of juvenile delinquency, a clear path emerges in implementing the best combination of recommended strategies towards reducing juvenile offenses in the United States.
While government efforts are rampant for reducing recidivism in juvenile offenses, juvenile justice is becoming more and more elusive as competing social objectives and deficient knowledge of troubled youth reform arise from a troubled justice system in the United States. Such elusiveness comes from a history of juvenile delinquency and court system adaptations in the past century. The juvenile court has grown to resemble more and more closely to the adult justice system, with an increasing emphasis on punitive punishment (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). Ever since the decade following the 1990s, where juvenile killings appeared to have grown more calloused and hardened in malice, that states decided to file charges against juveniles offenders in adult court (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). Yet, with an over-emphasis in punitive punishment, less rehabilitative measures could be taken into consideration with such a vulnerable population of juvenile offenders. The lack of experience in dealing with the juvenile justice system led different states to fend for themselves when it comes to issues regarding how to best rehabilitate this sensitive group of at-risk youth.
However, the overdependence on local governments in implementing juvenile justice brings on another set of problems in juvenile rehabilitation. Due to the lack of clearly defined standards across the states of America in addressing juvenile justice, uniformity of identifying juvenile offenses becomes an issue in a nation with increasing rates of juvenile offices. The differing juvenile justice systems’ practices and its lack of coherent definitions of offender characteristics implemented across the 50 states in America hinder effective public policy implementation (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). As an example, while most states try offenders 18 years old and under in juvenile courts, other states have 16,17, and 19 years old as the age cap limit for juveniles tried in the justice systems (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). Furthermore, the lack of standardized definitions of juvenile crimes committed also poses troubling obstacles in gathering information on determining the impact of such activities on the national scale. Such varying definitions put statistics such as the increase of juvenile delinquency into question (Elrod & Ryder, 2011). As explained by Greenwood and Turner (2011), current shortage of community-based programs to address the complications of delinquency prone youths, along with the unfamiliarity of state legislators with juvenile court policies and procedures, present challenges toward upholding an effective juvenile justice system.
Moreover, indulgence of information on juvenile offenders also poses as a double-edged sword in confidentiality that protects case records of juvenile offenders from outside scrutiny, against lack of quantitative data on local government enforcement groups, such as probation officers (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). Extralegal factors that play a part in this juvenile justice system further signal the need for redress. A host of extralegal factors have been examined in terms of their influence on juvenile dispositions (Lin, 2007). Under the principle of parens patriae, courts may include anything relevant to public safety or the welfare of the youth in making decisions, whether it involves family functioning, and other variables such as school engagement, mental health, and/or attitude towards the offense (Lin, 2007). Yet, in Lin’s research, it was found that JPOs, Juvenile Probation officers, wielded much power and discretion over the recommendations for the decisions of family courts over a particular youth’s offense (Lin, 2007). In this instance, too much information for one party, the juvenile probation officer, without oversight from a higher disciplinary authority can engender more bias and further injustice toward juvenile offenders.
Since there is no uniform standard and benchmark in which to evaluate juvenile offenses, an abundance of discretion on the part of juvenile probation officers can be hampering, if not debilitative, toward juvenile offenders rehabilitation in the United States (Harris, Lockwood, Mengers & Stoodley, 2011). As explained by Rudes, Viglione, and Taxman (2011), probation's emphasis in the last two decades has shifted away from child saving and toward safety and community control. Hence, juvenile probation officers often experience role conflict or tensions between rehabilitation and punishment goals due to such incoherence and conflicts in goal changes. Since there is no clear practice and systems that allow for junior probation officers to conduct their duties, more juveniles fall beneath the cracks of the juvenile justice system. As such, in order to promote an effective rehabilitation program of deterring recidivism of juvenile delinquency, an examination and overhaul of the current juvenile justice system are necessary for both prevention and intervention juvenile delinquency programs.
One primary measure of the juvenile justice system is the effectiveness with which to protect youth and decrease the likelihood of these vulnerable populations in committing future crimes is through preventative strategies and intervention of current system practices (Lipsey, Howell, Kelley, Chapman & Carver, 2010). A standardized system of defining the recidivism of juvenile delinquency should be the foremost issue addressed. As pointed out by Harris, Lockwood, Mengers, and Stoodley (2011), distinctions amongst the measurements used for recidivism is critical as its use will generate vastly disparate results in data types that include, self-reports of re-offending, arrest records, and court records of adjudication and disposition of juvenile delinquencies. Since there is no official standard in which to evaluate recidivism, it can be properly assumed that starting a dialogue would be the best option toward starting a standardized identification of recidivism characteristics between affiliated support groups of juvenile offenders. For starters, the CJCA (Council for Development of the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators’) standards can serve as a starting point in considering a set of criteria in which to evaluate the effectiveness of recidivism. The rationale behind choosing such standards in place of others is premised upon the evidence that state correctional agencies have more access to data on commitment results of juvenile delinquencies and uses this measure with far greater frequency than do program evaluations (Harris, Lockwood, Mengers & Stoodley, 2011). Henceforth, a significant follow-up task would be to improve access to these data and strengthen collaboration among juvenile justice agencies, whereupon help would be rendered to agencies lacking the technical expertise and support to collect and analyze the data recommended (Harris, Lockwood, Mengers & Stoodley, 2011). This way, a standardized definition and measurement of recidivism can lead to better evaluations of program efficacy for options such as evidence-based programs focused upon prevention and intervention.
Methods that could possibly circumvent the insufficiencies of the current juvenile justice system are reverting the juvenile court system back to an emphasis on protection versus punitive punishment as deterrence in recidivism. There are scientific proofs that document efficacy of using family therapies, whether that would be diversion, residential placement or probation as reducing recidivism in juvenile delinquencies (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). It was found that subjecting juvenile offenders to punishment beyond the level of control is simply counter-productive and counter-intuitive toward reducing recidivism and the protection of public safety (Lipsey, Howell, Kelley, Chapman & Carver, 2011). Juveniles should be waived to be tried in criminal courts when they have low risk for reoffending.
For those juveniles that have moderate to high risk of reoffending, an emphasis should be dedicated to tending the therapeutic health needs of juvenile offenders, increasing the use of evidence-based programs to determine possible benefits that can arise out of these programs (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). According to Lipsey, Howell, Kelley, Chapman, and Carver (2011), while juvenile justice supervisory apparatus, such as probation and correction facilities, rendered slightly favorable effects of recidivism, more therapeutic programs that promote constructive behavior have shown very positive effects. Such positive effects even apply to serious juvenile offenders as well. Therapeutic programs, specific brand name interventions, such as Functional Family Therapy, Aggression Replacement Therapy and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care are just some of the few that can be modeled and replicated on a nation-wide level to lower recidivism in juvenile delinquency (Lipsey, Howell, Kelley, Chapman & Carver, 2011). In order to make sure that such programs can produce effective results, it was suggested by Lipsey, Howell, Kelley, Chapman, and Carver (2011) that a pilot program be launched first under close supervision, with the entire organizational infrastructure installed in place, and competently delivered in accordance with the plan coordinators’ specifications. After such programs are approved, then it should be implemented cautiously across a wider spectrum of localities or be referenced as a model program for further replication in other areas. In such a way, the court system will have more resources freed up that can be dedicated to renovating the current juvenile justice system supervisory apparatus executions.
By holding the justice system accountable for the changes necessary in the juvenile court, one other area that needs to be modified is the retraining of enforcers of the courts, juvenile probation officers, specifically the way in which they execute and implement interaction with juvenile youths. It has been speculated that the position of the organization as a whole on probation officer supervision style is important and helps determine the attitudes of staff members in delivering palpable differences that providing juvenile support (Rudes, Viglione & Taxman, 2011). However, since the current system unloads so much responsibility onto the shoulders of juvenile probation officers, it is found that they are often overburdened and struggles to balance between protection based and punitive punishments for juvenile offenders (Rudes, Viglione & Taxman, 2011). Enhanced specialized training may induce positive views and perceptions of probationers to put forth emphasis on the delivery of results with a social service orientation (Rudes, Viglione, & Taxman, 2011). Once the court system re-directs current juvenile justice systems towards a more protective and preventive approach, more direction and care can follow suit in aiding juveniles with more effective measures toward reducing recidivism. Such specialized training can then focus on helping juvenile probation officers learn effective performance and management of their job despite multiple and often conflicting demands. Such specialized training, as indicated by Rudes, Viglione and Taxman (2011) should focus upon risk characteristics, often pairing higher risk juvenile offenders with higher levels of supervision on behalf of the probation officers. This way, low-risk juveniles who are identified to need less time frees up the extra resources that can be dedicated towards a successful rehabilitation for higher risk juveniles.
Holding treatment organizations accountable for the results of such programs is critical towards the successful institution and implementation of these evidence-based programs in deterring recidivism in juvenile offenders. In order for such evidence-based to be successful, a myriad of factors needs to be considered, such as accountability on behalf of program providers, prevention-based emphasis, and cost benefits resulting from these programs (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). By keeping up clear channels of communication with different support and supervisory groups, more help can be dedicated to making positive effects for juvenile offenders. It is obvious that the clear path would be to revert back to a system of prevention and “child-saving,” where the emphasis is on care of the child (Lipsey, Howell, Kelley, Chapman & Carver, 2011). An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in this instance, punitive laws should not take precedence in determining the future of a juvenile offender, who can be a fully functional and contributing member of the society (Greenwood & Turner, 2011). Only with care and emphasis on preventative measures will a community be truly safe in the juvenile justice system of the future.
Elrod, P., & Ryder, R. S. (2011). Juvenile justice: A social, historical, and legal perspective. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Greenwood, P. W., & Turner, S. (2011). Juvenile crime and juvenile delinquency. Crime and public policy (2nd ed., pp. 88-100). USA: Oxford University Press.
Harris, P. W., Lockwood, B., Mengers, L., & Stoodley, B. H. (2011). Measuring Recidivism in Juvenile Corrections. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 1(1).
Lin, J. (2007). Exploring the impact of institutional placement on the recidivism of delinquent youth (217590). New York University.
Lipsey, M. W., Howell, J. C., Kelley, M. R., Chapman, G., & Carver, D. (2010). Improving the effectiveness of juvenile justice programs. Center for Juvenile Justice Reform.
Rudes, D. S., Viglione, J., & Taxman, F. S. (2011). Juvenile probation officers: how the perception of roles affects training experiences for evidence-based practice implementation (75:3). Federal Probation Journal.