|The Juvenile Justice System in 2013|
|By Terry Campbell, Professor, Kaplan University, School of Public Safety|
The year 2013 is upon the criminal justice field with attention on many areas. I selected juvenile offenders to discuss. Yes, there are many issues related to this topic. I selected five (5) emphasis areas consisting of fiscal considerations; juvenile sentencing; mental health and juveniles; juveniles and adult courts; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) youth.
Juvenile justice focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Meeting the goals of juvenile justice continues to be a struggle for many agencies. Due to fiscal cuts, closing of facilities and meeting the needs of offenders, services are being decreased. Yet, we cannot ignore the legal issues and court decisions. The treatment, safety, and security of our facilities must remain in place for our juveniles. Alternatives are being reviewed daily to assist with the on- going 2013 fiscal dilemma.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected life without parole (LWOP) for juvenile offenders. The court decided LWOP is ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ These juvenile offenders were prosecuted as adults. Many states are still struggling with resentencing concerns and implementing necessary changes.
Juveniles and mental health areas continue to be a concern. Unfortunately, many agencies are not aware of juveniles mental health status until they are received and assessed. Our incarcerated youth are in need of mental health services. These services are instrumental in assisting our youth with successful transition back into the community.
Several research studies completed in 2012 looked at male and female juvenile offenders with various mental health symptoms. In addition, research reviewed mental health assessments for various cultures. Results of these studies indicate a need to review and assess each “groups specific needs.” Effective treatment plans are necessary to build upon strengths and successful return to the community.
Juvenile offenders are still being reviewed by the prosecutor’s office to determine if they should be tried as an adult. Each state’s statutes define and outline the requirements for this. When this occurs and there is a guilty verdict, the offender will be housed in prison. We cannot ignore the safety and security concerns of these youth now incarcerated as an adult. This becomes an added security issue. All too often this is the first time this youth has received a physical, dental exam, mental health review and other. Unfortunately some of the youth are extremely violent and pose a security risk not only for themselves but to other inmates and staff. The offender is assessed and a treatment plan is developed.
The National Institute of Corrections developed the following: “A Quick Guide for LGBTI Policy Development for Youth Confinement Facilities.” This is a must read and can be located at www.nicis.gov/LGBTI. LGBTI is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth. Focus areas consist of the following:
Agencies must emphasize during intake, screening, and assessment the importance of identifying LGBTI youth. However, it is also very important to have in place written policies and procedures regarding LGBTI youth. Also, training must be developed and provided for staff working with these youth.
Staff need to immediately be aware of medical and mental health concerns, searches, housing assignment, information management (Confidentiality concerns) and other. This is going to be relatively new information which all agencies need to review.
I shared with you some juvenile critical areas facing us in 2013. These selections are my opinions and views for each area. 2013 will continue to be an interesting year related to juvenile offenders. Agencies must be creative in still meeting offender needs while competing for dollars. According to fiscal managers, we still face a tough budget year ahead of us. The old adage; “Make do with less and continue services,” is present. From this administrators and staff are becoming stressed and pressured to provide services while maintaining safety and security. The last thing we need is a reduction in staff, yet some states are experiencing this.
We want to continue and focus on rehabilitation and recidivism. Yet, at the same time we must note: “Until offenders are willing to accept the responsibilities and consequences for their own actions, change is not going to occur.” (Campbell).
The programs, mentoring, reinforcement, and support must continue to be provided in an attempt for some of these juveniles to change. This is one of the last opportunities for youth to make a change before entering the big house. Are we going to save all? No. Can we save some and make a difference in some young lives? Yes. The dedication, professionalism of staff, and desire to assist these offenders are crucial. When we look at where some of these offenders came from and obstacles faced, it is truly amazing some are able to change. We cannot overlook that trust and respect are major components and not easily obtained. Many of our youth are able to make the necessary adjustments to turn their lives around while others continue to struggle and get caught in the revolving door. 2013 will be an interesting year.
Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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