|By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global|
Our topic for November is ‘Juveniles.’ I will provide my views, opinions, and experiences working with youth convicted as adults and research in general for juveniles. As many know, this can be a very difficult population to work with and causes additional stress to staff.
Unfortunately, many of the offenders have been abused in many ways, many have mental health issues; many have poor hygiene, lack of medical and dental care, poor diet, addicted to alcohol and drugs, etc. Many of their behaviors were learned at an early age in their homes. We can contribute some of this to lack of parenting skills, neglect, no positive support system, and other. The picture is one of gloom and despair. Now that we have them in either the juvenile system or other types of facilities, we are expected to rehabilitate these youth. Easier said than done.
A large percentage of these offenders have lack of respect and trust for adults. If you think about it, when the offenders got into trouble, adults were involved in restraining the individual. This same individual progressed through the juvenile system and again, adults were making decisions affecting them directly.
We also find many of these youth lack education, basic life skills, anger management techniques, and many other things. The stress and challenges faced by staff is tremendous and can cause safety concerns. Some staff working with youth do well, while others continue to struggle. This is the same for staff working with adult offenders. Perhaps, these officers can be moved and aligned with appropriate skills either working with youth or adult offenders. Besides the many challenges faced by youth, we still have concerns with recidivism. This often relates to how the agency defines recidivism. Bottom line, we have many initiatives that look promising toward rehabilitation, yet long term data is not as promising.
In addition to the issues identified, we have a problem when the youth will be supervised in the community. Are there ample programs available in the community to meet the offender needs? Does the offender have a means of support to transport them to the services? Not all communities have public transportation and there are additional factors to consider.
Unfortunately, many of our juvenile offenders come from very unstable homes, inadequate support systems, basic needs not being met and other. Yet, quite often the youth is returned to the same environment where they have encountered previous problems and lack of support.
I reviewed the “Juvenile Justice Statistics: National Report Series Fact Sheet January 2018.” The following areas were discussed in detail; age, detention, intake decisions, courts and trends, delinquency estimates, adjudication and disposition information. I thought this would be a good read for you.
The following statistical information was interesting: “Characteristics of Cases Judicially Waived from Juvenile Court to Criminal Court. (OJJDP).”
Some preliminary information and this will be interesting to follow and see how the numbers compare in future years. We are seeing more of a push toward rehabilitation efforts, versus incarceration. At times, concerns have been expressed with lessened accountability and consequences for offenders. Also, concerns if negative behavior is being rewarded. This will be interesting to monitor as well. One additional area to consider, are any cases pending or to be filed in our courts and what their rulings will be.
Historically we have seen court intervention with juvenile cases in the 60’s on up to present day.
Understanding the juvenile system is an undertaking with the constant flux of change. Some states, and based on many factors, do a better job than others when dealing with juvenile offenders. If you are interested in juvenile justice, I strongly recommend you become involved with juvenile justice organizations and even take advantage of some volunteer opportunities. This can be very rewarding, especially assisting with the difficult offenders and seeing positive changes.
Stay safe out there.
Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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