Why would our government try to hurt kids? Well, kids are being hurt right now. You see, in America punishment, rather than rehabilitation is being emphasized for juveniles who commit crimes. This way of thinking must stop with the addition of rehabilitation and prevention programs for juvenile offenders.
States vary in their legal definition of a juvenile. In Illinois, for example, a juvenile is defined as any person below the age of 17. Using each states legal definition, the FBI reported that 62% of juveniles arrested in 1992 were referred to juvenile courts, 5% to a criminal or adult court, 2% to a welfare agency, and 1% to another police agency. The kids sent to adult prisons were eight times as likely to commit suicide. It has also been evident that those kids incarcerated with adults are also more likely to become repeat offenders.
Legislation pending in congress now is debating several issues. Among them are weather to have children as young as 13 be prosecuted and sentenced as adults for certain crimes, give prosecutors the discretion to transfer a juvenile to an adult court in certain crimes, and allow juveniles to have incidental contact and in some cases be housed with adults.
I take an opposing point of view with that of congress. If a 13 year old is imprisoned, how can he become a functional member of society upon his release? How will he create a positive lifestyle for himself? The real question is: How can he turn in any direction other than that of crime? He simple will not be able to. If a child is sent to a prison to stay in a cell for hours at a time, the only life he will know is the life he came from, not the life that could be his. Also, a prosecutor shouldn’t have the privilege to decide what court a kid is placed in. A prosecutor has a built in bias; the decision should be left to a judge who would look in the best interest of the convicted person. The statistics prove that housing children with adults can only have a disastrous outcome for the juvenile.
The goal of juvenile detention should be to rehabilitate and develop the individual. Appropriate educational skills need to be taught. Children need to be put in touch with their feeling through counseling. Juvenile offenders need to be exposed to role models from within their community and without. A sense of hope should be instilled so that the young offender is not resigned to the fate of a “second class citizen.”
More important than efforts to rehabilitate the offender would be programs to prevent the juvenile from committing crimes to begin with. Keyshawn Johnson, a wide receiver for the NFL’s New York Jets, recently said “People hate to say it, but what you are around is what you’re going to be. At 13 years old and you’re around crime, you’re going to be a criminal.” For this reason, prevention efforts must involve the entire community, including schools, faith-based organizations, business, law enforcement and most importantly, the parents. If parents are unable to properly educate their kids, then programs need to be developed to train the parents. Boys and girls clubs basketball leagues, The Jessie White Tumblers, adult mentoring, and student exchanges are all positive prevention programs that need to be continued and further promoted.
It is imperative that our federal government set a tone and send the message that juveniles who come in contact with the law are entitled to protections not available to adults. Rehabilitation, not long term imprisonment, should be the goal, and prevention now is preferable to punishment later. 2.3 million juveniles were arrested in 1992. It is in the best interest of America to see that these 2.3 million do not become adult offenders.