We are finishing up our discussion of the juvenile justice system and whether probation is a reasonable, effective alternative to incarceration. Research indicates that incarceration, in fact any contact with the juvenile system increases the risk that the youthful offender will become an adult offender.
Probation, however, poses its own problems and leads to equally unfortunate outcomes. The conditions of probation for a juvenile can be vague or so lofty there’s no hope of toeing the line. Probation also includes electronic home monitoring, another problematic “solution.”
The ankle monitor is an unforgiving watchman. One young man tells of setting the monitor off repeatedly by just leaving the house to take a walk, to get a change of scenery. He ended up in detention several times for the same misstep. The court’s reasoning? He was not obeying his parents or guardians, one of the conditions of his probation. The case is not from Minnesota, but it easily could be; our juvenile probation system includes home monitoring devices.
Probation is supposed to be a less onerous alternative to incarceration, but juvenile offenders in one California county would disagree. The county reported that, in 2014, probation violations sent juveniles to detention more often than any other transgression. And the trend continues in other parts of the country. There are juvenile detention centers where as many as half of the kids are serving time for technical violations of probation, of leaving the yard to take a walk.
Probation is just another arm of a system that doesn’t work, critics say. The goal is to limit the juvenile’s involvement with the justice system, but probation just offers more opportunities for what one critic calls entanglement with the system.
Experts suggest that a better system would work with the entire family, the people who have the most contact with and influence over the juvenile. The goal would shift from rehabilitation to behavior modification.
By addressing the juvenile’s environment and the forces that led to the criminal activity, the system could help the family and the community to encourage and to support healthy, lawful behavior for every age group.
Source: Minnesota Public Radio News, “Some youths find probation more challenging than juvenile detention,” Soraya Shockley, Jul 29, 2015