As both a legal representative and member of the community, I am reminded daily of the need for a more effective Juvenile Court. Some of the crimes juveniles are capable of committing while showing little remorse and a nonchalant attitude are shocking to the conscience and absolutely heartbreaking. Many of these teens, by no fault of their own, are raised in and surrounded by a culture of poverty, despair and hopelessness. Thus the cycle perpetuates.
A significant number of these children will go through the juvenile justice system prior to escalating to more serious crimes. This suggests that not only was an opportunity to rehabilitate wasted, but also that the problem is likely compounded by the current system of incarceration, which cultivates contempt and further solidifies the cycle of despondency. As a result these individuals are placed back on the streets in a worse position than they left. Many juveniles are also simply being warehoused until they graduate to the adult court and prison systems. In my opinion, incarceration is a short-term view of a long-term problem and should be utilized only as a last resort in extreme cases. Every day the juvenile justice system is shaping the future of these children, and in essence the future of our community. It is imperative that we take the appropriate actions to break the cycle of despair and empower a system that gives juveniles hope and direction. It takes more time, effort and energy to properly evaluate, intervene and monitor a youth. That is a commitment we must make.
I am compassionate and empathetic to the individual caught in the juvenile system, and understand what few options their environment offers them. Dysfunction in family, poverty, psychological and mental problems, and criminal backgrounds are the norm for most. For many of the kids that would come in front of me as Judge, I would be the first adult to take a positive, active role in their lives. This is not a role I would take lightly.
At the same time, there are also juveniles that have proven to be a danger to themselves and others and may be beyond the reach of alternative programs. These cases require a much firmer approach, and are an appropriate use of our limited resources for incarceration. The ability to distinguish between individuals who will respond positively to intervention and those who will escalate into higher forms of crime requires a level of experience and dedication I am capable of and committed to deliver. These are decisions, not choices, and should be well considered, thoughtful and include a complete evaluation of family and environmental factors. We can’t afford not to.
Methodical Evaluation of Current Programs
It is vital that we determine the extent and effectiveness of current juvenile programs. Most currently implemented crime and drug prevention programs have no credible evaluation, and most have proven unsuccessful. If there is no evidence in place to verify a program’s success, it is unethical to continue placing children into that system. Present recidivism rates indicate a highly flawed process, therefore the juvenile justice system must be analyzed to determine where we are failing the children in our community.
Implementing Evidence Based Best Practices
Several programs are being utilized in cities across the nation that have proven to be highly successful. It is my goal to carefully analyze available models and determine what will work best for our community, and how best to implement these methods. A prime example of a successful youth rehabilitation program is the Missouri Model, a unique method instituted by the Missouri Division of Youth Services that focuses on therapy and education rather than punishment and continuing the cycle of despair. Instead of simply locking teens away in cells, they are brought into a support system in which they, as well as their families, receive an individualized treatment plan. Teens reside in residential centers instead of prisons, and are offered educational and therapeutic opportunities that highly increase their chances for success when released. Missouri’s methods have been proven to work well, as 84-88% of youths are productively engaged in society by the time they are released from custody. Recidivism rates are also much lower than with detention-based systems, such as our current methods.
Visit our resources page to learn more about the Missouri Model and other evidence-based best practices.
Crucial to the successful rehabilitation of troubled teens is the involvement and commitment of their parents and family, both during treatment and after. We need to encourage and demand that the parents and guardians of children in the program are equally involved by offering parallel classes and therapy, and increasing pressure to show up to court hearings and meetings. Without the continuing support of the family structure, teens who have completed their therapy will be less likely to continue their self-improvement. and more likely to fall back into old habits and cycles.
Improved Monitoring Systems
Throughout the rehabilitation process, success and followthrough depends heavily on careful monitoring of the teen and his surroundings.