All states wrestle with how to protect society from children who kill while making sure they get the rehabilitation they need, and ensuring justice for victims’ families.
The most effective rehabilitation comes from juvenile programs where young children receive therapy in a positive environment and behavioral interventions aimed at increasing empathy, self-management, and self-regulation.
In adult prison, the emphasis is on punishment. More vocational and academic programs have been added, but not every young adult prisoner takes advantage of them. Juveniles don’t do well in prison, and they certainly cannot be expected to benefit from being placed with adults with criminal thinking. Instead, in prison, they are placed in an environment where criminal thinking tends to be the social norm.
Nationally, 10 percent of all murders are committed by juveniles, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That’s about 1,043 murders a year. More younger children are committing increasingly violent crimes. The irony is younger children have a better chance of being rehabilitated because they stay under juvenile control longer, so that therapeutic interventions and supervision continues.
Most of the time violent juveniles are transferred to adult court and tried as adults. If convicted, they remain in a juvenile detention center until they are 19, and then they are transferred to the adult prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. If one happens to be tried as a juvenile and is convicted, he serves his entire sentence in a juvenile detention center and is freed by the time he turns 19.
Experts say violent crime among juveniles is down nationally.
When youth do commit violent crimes, we know what treatments can be effective. What works is one-on-one and group therapy and empowering a child through academic and vocational classes. What doesn’t work is Scared Straight programs and boot camps. In fact, they actually have been shown to have negative effects.
Still, for many of these kids, their time in youth facilities is not long enough to reverse a lifetime of letdowns from the adults in their lives. Nationally, 40 percent of first-time offenders return to juvenile court.
In sum, there are a number of reasons that trying youth is no benefit to society:
- Violence toward others peaks in adolescent years, but a violent adolescent doesn’t necessarily become a violent adult.
- Some two-thirds to three-quarters of violent youths grow out of it and become more self-controlled.
- Efforts to rehabilitate in the juvenile justice system are often successful.