Lock Them Up?

With so many children being sentenced to correctional facilities, both those designed for juveniles and those that are designed for adults, we need to answer whether this is the best way to handle juvenile offenders or if there is a better way to help a...

Community Programs

Instead of locking a child up in a facility, whether designed for juveniles or even worst one for adults, many communities offer programs to help keep society safe while encouraging rehabilitation. Examples of these types of programs are supervised release, such as home detention, electronic monitoring, intensive supervision, day and evening reporting centers, skills training programs or residential programs. One downside to these is many rely on a child having natural supports within in the community to be successful. When a child does not have family members that are involved or others, such as mentors or school personnel, often they are not candidates to remain in the community.


One program popular among restorative justice supporters is mediation. Victim-offender mediation programs (VOMP) run on the premise that aside from a crime being committed -a harm was done. The punishment must address this harm attempting to promote healing. In the commission of a criminal act, many parties are harmed, the victim, the victim’s family, the offender’s family, the community and even the offender. In VOMP, an offender must take responsibility for this harm and be willing to heal it in ways that are determined by those affected. For example, a juvenile in Lane County (Oregon) was involved in a situation where he and several others threw flammables into a temple. Inside the temple were Holocaust survivors. The harm created by this crime went beyond the simple criminal law definition. The victims, the offender and the criminal justice system in this case were all willing to utilize VOMP. Within the process, the offender learned about Judaism and listened to the experience of the victims not only of the holocaust but what the offender's crime did to add to their fear and trauma. In the end, the offender grew releasing some of the ignorance and immaturity that contributed to his behavior the day he committed his crime and allowed both the victims and the offender to heal. This could not have been accomplished by simply locking the offender up for a certain amount of time.

Hardened criminals who also happen to be under the age of 18 do exist. Age does not preclude a person from being a violent predator. Fortunately, this is not the case with many juvenile offenders. Many children find themselves in front of a judge over status offenses or for being delinquent. It is for these children, society and the criminal justice system must think beyond retribution and confinement. If not, we are creating a generation of institutionalized adults who have been othered and gained a free education in deviance. Hopefully, we have not lost faith in our children and as a society are still willing to parent them to the best of our ability, including seeking alternative sanctions to the prison industrial complex.

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