Juvenile Crime: A Call for Rehabilitation, Not Recidivism
By Shomik Gibson
Imagine yourself in a middle school hallway walking with your best friend when suddenly an intimidating, older student begins to physically bully your best friend. You can choose one of three options: one, find a teacher; two, stand idly by while your friend is bullied and hope for it to end; or three protect your friend. What would you do? Children who choose the last option, like Chad, can easily find themselves placed into juvenile detention centers and later taken from their homes for months.
The American juvenile justice system (“juvey”) is expansive. We live in a time where school administrators quickly send students straight to juvey without taking less pervasive steps and without warning the students’ guardians. Gone are the days of warnings and second chances. Gone are the days of considering whether a first time “offender” like Chad had reason for his actions.
Once sent to juvey, unlike an adult trial, the juvenile may not get a fair day in court. Juveniles face biased judges and judges who receive kickbacks. While the end goal of the juvenile detention system has always been juvenile rehabilitation, these judges are primarily concerned about their own self-interests. Chad’s probation officer assured Chad’s mother that she did not need an attorney for Chad, and adamantly assured her that Chad would be released. The probation officer failed to consider the possibility that the judge was receiving kickbacks from sending juveniles to the detention center. This type of judicial bias violates the juvenile’s right to a fair trial and deprives the child and his familial guardians of family unity.
It is imperative when dealing with juveniles that judges consider rehabilitation that prevents recidivism. Juvenile judges must consider factors surrounding and influencing the child, such as the home environment. In the case of Chad, Chad had lost his live-in grandmother the day before the incident, and he had lost his aunt the year before. These two deaths influenced Chad’s handling of the incident, but the judge never heard these factors.
A recent study showed that childhood trauma could drastically contribute to the likelihood of a child taking drugs and alcohol or becoming violent. The study explained, “[T]hat the solution to helping [the child] heal so that they won’t commit more crime is to help [the child] resolve their underlying issues instead of putting them in a system that further traumatizes them.” In situations like Chad’s, separating the child from their family is not a solution. In other more serious cases, the system must provide mental health evaluations and counseling in the hopes of rehabilitating juveniles, instead of locking them into the isolation of detention that subjects them to more trauma such as sexual assault and additional violence.
Once juveniles enter juvenile detention centers the mentality is usually “[w]e’re detention, we’re pre-adjudicated, we don’t do treatment.” Therefore, by the time juveniles are sentenced and placed into a juvenile detention center, it is too late. The juvenile detention system simply treats these juveniles like correctional facilities treat adults; it treats them like criminals.
Therefore, if our judges, as the gatekeepers and deciders of our childrens’ futures, do not protect the juvenile’s best interest, then who will? The juvenile judges have a special role in understanding the problems facing each individual juvenile and determining a plan of rehabilitation, not incarceration.