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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Different Alternatives to Juvenile Incarceration

Since the 1990s the trend is towards confinement of juvenile in juvenile residential facilities.  This is supported by the fact that though the total population of juveniles between the ages 10-19 increased only by 3% between 1980 and 2000, the number of juveniles confined increased from 51,000 in 1979 to 104,000 in 2001 (Zelly Zavlek, 2005, p.3).  Juvenile arrest rates only increased by 66% from 139 arrests per 100,000 in 1985 to 231 arrests per 100,000 in 1994 (Zelly Zavlek, 2005, p.3).  Consequently, the number of juveniles confined in detention centers also increased by 74% during in 1990s.

Despite these on-going trends, there is a consensus among researchers that placing juveniles in facilities designed primarily for adult inmates conflicts with the goal of rehabilitating and reforming juvenile offenders.  One of the main concerns is the issue of management of prisons which until today is imperfect.  According to research, juvenile offenders are exposed to harsher conditions when they are inside prisons.  It should be stressed that the lack of adequate security inside prisons exposes these vulnerable juveniles against various physical, emotional and psychological risks.  They are also exposed to risks of sexual abuse inside prisons (David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, 2010).  According to a study, the juveniles inside adult prisons are five times more like to be sexually attacked (Fagan, Forst and Vivona, 1989, p.10).

It should be emphasized that in some cases it can be argued that prisons may not be beneficial for an adult.  In some cases, there are adults who do not deserve to be punished inside prisons.  The same is true for juvenile offenders.  Many cases of juvenile offenders who have been convicted and punished do not deserve to stay inside prisons.  A majority of them are low-risk offenders who do not deserve to be judged by the society.

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Instead of prisons, it is suggested that juvenile offenders should be given a second chance.  The lawmakers should focus on the community-based programs as a measure to address juvenile crimes. While this may be very expensive for the government, I believe that these community-based programs are long-term solutions to the problem of juvenile crimes.  Rehabilitation and reformation happens much easier in a community-setting where the child gets to spend the time with his family and his friend.  He is not isolated and separated from his support groups who can help in his rehabilitation and reformation.

However, I believe that the current legislations should protect juveniles against being placed in adult prisons.  Our current legislations should not include under-age children in the punishment of crimes.  In fact, the current legislation should not only change its attitude towards transfer of juvenile jurisdiction to criminal courts but they should also promote community-based programs as a solution to juvenile crimes.

The reason for this proposal is simple.  Focusing on community-based programs is more beneficial to the child’s development.  All of us go through the stage where we are impulsive and reactive.  During these years, individuals can be experimental with the use of drugs and alcohol.  It can also be the stage where individuals may engage in violent behavior.  However, the violent behavior changes over time (R. Dwayne Betts, 2010).  Individuals eventually learn to control their behavior and become a better person.  Though some individuals may have done some bad things in the past, it does not mean that they are incorrigible.

Though we are all capable of violence, we are all capable of changing our behavior.  Some individuals only need a second chance in life to prove ourselves. The lawmakers should not be hasty in judging and condemning these individuals.

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