Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

Benefits of Rehabilitation in the American Juvenile Justice System

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In 2010, according to the U.S Department of Justice, approximately 70,800 juveniles were incarcerated in youth detention facilities alone, with 500,000 total youths brought to detention centers in any given year. The juvenile justice system, which was set up in 1899, has previously focused primarily on the punishment of juveniles, but recently, between 2005 to 2012, its focus changed: switching to rehabilitation of these children, providing them with education to help fix their problems. Emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment has made the juvenile justice system more effective, helping better the children's lives and providing them with support and comfort.

The juvenile justice system was first created in Illinois in 1899, and a lot has changed since then. Due to the large crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980's, the government started using harsher laws and punishments, leading to more convicted prisoners. After a couple of decades of reconsidering the objectives of incarceration, the government began to introduce the ideas of rehabilitation between 2005 and 2012. The result was a bettering the youths lives and the opening of doors for their future. An example is the case of Hernan Carvente. In 2008, 15 year old Carvente shot a rival gang member in Queens and was arrested and sentenced to a 2-6 year sentence. He served in a juvenile facility, but at the facility he received "counseling and other support. He also began a college program he's grateful for the opportunities he was given while in custody.

Now 25, Carvente earned a bachelor's degree and is planning to go to graduate school". This is a prime example of how rehabilitation can benefit juveniles. By providing education and support, Carvente's life was turned around. Opportunities were given, allowing him to continue his education and become a productive member of society. Rehabilitation also prevents juveniles from returning to detention centers or prisons in the future due to committing another offense. This not only improves the children's lives, allowing them to have a future, but also can cut down on the costs of incarcerating juveniles, which currently stands at a whopping $5.7 billion a year (Stoffers 8). Incorporating rehabilitation into the justice system allows children to feel much safer, providing counseling and various other resources. Many states are changing their detention centers to look like schools, making the transition for juveniles much easier and more familiar, while having the same security levels.

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In Brazos County, the traditional detention facilities are "also moving towards a more humane, normalized environment that does not re-traumatize children who often come from difficult circumstances...incorporating so-called "special needs" housing pods designed to accommodate behavioral issues, mental illness.. afterschool programming, life skills training, and special interest classes"(Pitts 13). A slow transition from an aesthetic point of view, as well as counseling and extra classes allows these individuals to feel more comfortable and receive more help. It provides a much safer environment and prevents them from having to face circumstances like those that led them down wrong paths, as many of the juveniles incarcerated come from poverty and from low income neighborhoods.

The change to a more familiar setting, like schools which they are used to, reduces trauma and intimidation. The different housing pods and counseling methods also allow the children to be treated and helped along the way. This could help them better understand and, in the future, best rectify their past mistakes, which would stop them returning to these facilities and allow them to live a more successful life.

The extra classes after school also give the individuals a chance to open up their mind to learn something new or acquire new skills. These type of facilities provide a lot of support and help, along with extra-curricular classes, to spark new interests or help the children find a productive hobby. Rehabilitation also leads to the juvenile system being more beneficial for the incarcerated. The numbers speak for themselves: as of 2010, "More than 100,000 children were incarcerated on any single day. In 2013, that number was down to 54,000 and they and their families are receiving treatment for a fraction of the cost of incarceration"(Hannum 19). Implementing rehabilitation rather than punishment in juvenile detention centers decreased the number of children incarcerated on any given day by half.

This proves that rehabilitation is more advantageous for the children, as many of them are stopped from becoming repeat offenders. It also makes it much more cost effective for the government and for the criminal's families. Because many such children come from broken homes and a poor background, the families often do not have enough money to spend in order to get the juveniles treated and rehabilitated. Now, with the help of rehabilitation, the individuals can get treated for a much cheaper cost than incarceration, saving money for the government and families, while also allowing more children to get the help and the support they need. The evidence above also shows that rehabilitation is much more effective and has a bigger impact on children in terms of preventing further criminal activity, rather than punishment alone.

Recently, many actions have been taken to further spread rehabilitation and end many of the punishments faced by prisoners. The Supreme Court has been recently reviewing the Eighth Amendment, which states that cruel or unusual punishments shall not be inflicted on citizens. Two punishments specifically, the death row and solitary confinement, have been banned for people under the age of 18. These landmark cases have changed the justice system and promoted rehabilitation for juveniles. An example of this is the Supreme Court case Simmons vs. Roper. Simmons had committed a capital murder at the age of 17, and was sentenced to death at the age of 18. Due to the fact that Simmons committed the crime when he was 17, meaning he was juvenile, his death penalty was set aside and he received life imprisonment without parole.

From that particular case ruling on, children under the age of 18 who were not legal adults at the time of the crime were not eligible for the death penalty. Another example of a Supreme Court case is Graham vs. Florida in 2010, which "ended life sentences without parole for crimes other than homicide committed by juveniles. Then last summer, in Miller vs. Alabama the court ruled that imposing mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment"(Brown 22). These cases are some examples of the slow shift from punishment to rehabilitation. The gradual transformation from punishment to rehabilitation is more beneficial for incarcerated youths.

Rehabilitation is effective, it helps better the children's lives, and also provides them with assistance and a feeling of safety. Extracurricular classes are also provided to help them find new hobbies. In contrast to the use of punishment, rehabilitation has cut down on the cost of incarceration, and prevents juveniles from returning to detention or correctional facilities in the future. This as a result allows more juveniles to receive the treatment without having repeat offenders taking advantage of the facilities again and again. Not only this, but it also provides better therapy and support so that the individuals can become successful by bettering themselves and moving past their previous surroundings.

Works Cited

  1. Brown, Sarah Alice. "Kids Are Not Adults." State Legislatures, vol. 39, no. 4, Apr. 2013, p. 20. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com. Accessed 26 February 2018
  2. Hannum, Kristen. "A Deficit of Hope." U.S. Catholic, vol. 81, no. 5, May 2016, pp. 12-19. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com. Accessed 14 February 2018.
  3. Pitts, Andrew. "The Changing Face of Juvenile Justice." American Jails, vol. 31, no. 5, Nov/Dec 2017, pp. 8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com. Accessed 15 February 2018.
  4. Stoffers, Carl. "Juvenile Justice: Can Young Criminals Be Reformed? A Growing Number of States Think So--But Not Everyone Is Convinced. (Cover Story)." New York Times Upfront, vol. 150, no. 6, 11 Dec. 2017, pp. 8-11. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com. Accessed 12 February 2018..
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