Friday, May 8, 2009
The eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits punishment that is cruel and unusual. The Supreme Court has interpreted this prohibition to mean that punishment must be proportional to the crime for which it is imposed. What about juveniles life sentences?
The United State is the only country that uses life sentence/death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles with Pennsylvania being the top in the nation. (http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2006/02/life_without_pa.html)
According to a news release from Human Rights Watch, human right activist are asking congress to pass a proposed law to end the sentencing of youth offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They also mentioned that there are at least 2574 individuals in the United States that are serving these sentences for crimes they committed before they were 18 years of old. The proposed law, “The Juvenile Justice Accountability Act of 2009,” would require states and the federal government to offer youth offenders meaningful opportunities for parole after serving 15 years of a life sentence.
Sentencing juveniles to die in prison is cruel, costly and unnecessary. Even youths who commit terrible crimes can grow and be rehabilitated. Recent studies of adolescent brain development have found that teens do not have the abilities of adults to make sound decisions, control their impulses, resist group pressures, or weigh the long-term consequences of their actions.
Juvenile life without parole sentences ignore the very real scientific facts and social differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances upon which this country was built. Psychoanalytical studies have shown that children lack the capacity to both understand and control their actions, which reduces culpability. The human brain does not reach its full capacity in the frontal cortex, the area of reasoning, until age 25. (http://compassioninjuvenilesentencing.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/petition-in-support-of-hr4300-ending-juvenile-life-without-parole/)
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, there is no national recidivism rate for juveniles because juvenile justice systems vary so much in each state. However, recidivism rate can be determined at the state level. In a study from Indiana State Corrections, the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders was 34%, which means that about one-third of juveniles released into the community re-offend. Male juvenile offenders have a higher rate of recidivism compared to female juveniles. Juvenile offenders whose first offense was considered “serious” serious in nature were most likely to return to incarceration after three years of release.
Across the nation, juvenile courts and corrections systems are littered with poorly conceived
strategies that may increase crime, endanger juveniles, damage their future prospects, waste
billions of taxpayer dollars, and violate our deepest held principles about equal justice under the
law. The juvenile justice system operates according to the philosophy and belief that youths are
fundamentally different than adults, both in terms of level of the government’s responsibility to
them and the potential for their rehabilitation. The treatment and successful reintegration of
youth into the community are the primary goals of the juvenile justice system, along with
maintaining its overall public safety. This reflects the overall goal of the juvenile justice system
to rehabilitate juveniles, which does so by attempting to identify mental and behavioral
disorders or traumas in youths in order to better provide services for them. Some of these
youths may be diverted from detention centers into juvenile probation, where they can continue
to be in the community where treatment services are based rather than remaining in pretrial
detention or proceeding to full detention commitments.
According to a Sacramento Bee report (posted on the web at http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/crime/archives/021592.html), Sacramento County Probation officials have announced the closing of two of three detention facilities for adjudicated juvenile offenders. The Warren E. Thornton Youth Center and Sacramento Boys Ranch will be closed on July 1st, 2009. The main Juvenile Youth Detention Facility – with only 276 beds – will be the only detention center to remain open. Both the Warren E. Thornton Youth Center and Sacramento Boys Ranch each housed about 110 youths each, some of which who are the county’s youngest male and female delinquents.
These detention facilities house some of the youths with the highest risk levels to re-offend – including gang members, as well as the county’s most sophisticated and violent juveniles – whose court case have already been adjudicated. With the closure of these detention facilities, many of the delinquents detained will be moved into community supervision. What will happen to safety of the county’s neighborhoods and schools should these delinquents be released?
The fact of the matter is that Sacramento County has nearly 3,500 youth on Probation or incarcerated in these juvenile detention facilites (Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/story/1748015.html). The detention facilities, although not perfect, hold the juveniles accountable for their actions and give them a chance to make amends to those that they have wronged. The juveniles in these facilities can be considered at "at-risk" and "disadvantaged" which modern research suggests can greatly benefit from a good education – learning good work habits, developing solid academic skills, and marketable career skills – provided by these detention centers. This may be their only escape from a life of poverty, prison, or worse. The idea of shutting these centers down would allow them to stay at home, where many are allowed a continued lack of parental supervision, and may continue to committ crimes against innocents.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
In response to delinquency, law enforcement and juvenile services should provide opportunities for rehabilitation. This can be done by placing them in a juvenile detention facility that can offer specialized services. A juvenile facility is an institution that detains youths who are either alleged to be delinquent or have been adjudicated delinquent. Its intended purpose is to protect the public from the delinquent acts of minors by placing those minors in secure detention and temporary care with intent, in most cases, to make those who serve time functioning adults in society. The goal of juvenile rehabilitation is to correct a youth’s delinquent behavior so that they do not commit further crimes and continue to threaten society by providing to them specialized programs.
Such programs are scheduled for all youths in the facility and consist of education, tutorial services in subjects such as reading and math, recreation activities, religious services, crisis counseling, and structured presentations from community agencies. These programs can help change juveniles’ maladaptive behavior and inappropriate coping skills, reduce recidivism, and give them the tools to become productive members of society and to ensure juveniles receive all necessary counseling and treatment. If juvenile delinquents are placed in rehabilitation programs in the early years of their delinquent careers, then there is a greater chance that they will not repeat their offenses. Likewise, the number of juveniles that become adult criminals decreases.
The rate of juvenile delinquency appears to be growing and continues to effect innocent people as they go about their daily routines. A series of studies made from Michael Forester a professor from University of Mississippi have shown that delinquency rates are above average in the poorest neighborhoods of cities. He stated that over 60% of families living in area far below poverty are more at risk. Such areas have many broken homes and a high rate of alcoholism. Broken home is a family in which the parents have separated or divorced. Children from broken families are nearly five times more likely to suffer damaging mental troubles than those whose parents stay together, Government research has found. They also have poorly funded and underperforming schools, high rates of unemployment, few recreational facilities, and high crime rates. Many young people participate in delinquency as a response to boredom, poverty, and personal problem.
Social scientists have studied the influence of delinquent peer groups on other juveniles. For example, they point out that most youngsters who engage in delinquent behavior do so with other juveniles and often in the form of organized gangs. According to Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (whose website can be found at http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/), 2,700 gangs and 788,000 gang members were active in the
Studies indicate that the causes of delinquency also extend to a whole society. For example, delinquency rates tend to be high among the low-income groups in societies where most people are well-to-do. The pain of being poor and living in slum conditions are felt more strongly in a rich society than in a poor one.
Delinquent behavior associated with youths has become a pressing problem in the