We are continuing our discussion of the juvenile justice system and the dilemma it presents to policymakers. More and more, it is looking as if incarceration is not the answer. Detention residences have not been particularly successful at rehabilitating juvenile offenders, and there is evidence that the experience itself may very well make the situation worse. Not only are offenders learning new criminal behaviors, but already troubled youth are being traumatized.
According to a National Public Radio report, juvenile incarceration has been on the decline for more than a decade — a full 50 percent over the past 16 years. While reformers would celebrate the trend, what has taken the place of incarceration may not be any more effective. Probation is taking a toll on juvenile offenders, too.
Probation for juveniles is different from probation for adults; it is more than an ankle monitor, more than checking in with a probation officer regularly and staying out of trouble. For juveniles, probation may come with dozens of conditions, and it can last until the offender turns 21.
In one case, the court’s conditions sound like something out of the King James Bible:
- Be of good behavior and perform well.
- Attend classes on time and regularly.
- Be of good citizenship and good conduct.
- Obey parents and guardians.
The conditions are so subjective that compliance is impossible to measure — unless you are the judge. The offender is walking an invisible tightrope. Stumble and he ends up in detention. The odds of succeeding are even worse when he has a weight, the ankle monitor, attached to just one leg.
We’ll talk more about ankle monitors in our next post.