The traditional solution adopted in the 1970s by the American justice system to eliminate crime in society through punishing criminals has clearly failed. The sheer pecuniary burden of maintaining the criminal justice and the punitive system has overwhelmed the government creating the need for an alternative approach. Among the areas where this alternative approach is most needed is within the juvenile criminal justice system in general and particularly with regard to the problem of recidivism. The advent of recidivism at the juvenile stage means that the juvenile might be a burden to the system perpetually and also have a flawed life. The threat of a punishment has clearly failed to absolutely solve the problem of recidivism which creates the need for a more holistic approach (Davidson, 2014). This approach philosophically looks at the juvenile delinquent, not as a problem to the society but rather a potential asset who only needs some attention. This approach combines the threat of punishment as a deterrent with the rehabilitative approach that seeks to change the life of the juvenile for better.
Discipline and Deterrence
No matter how much influence a juvenile gets from the environment and external factors, it must be admitted that delinquency is a character flaw. Harsh punishment cannot by itself be used to change the life of a delinquent and has even been shown to contribute to recidivism as the juvenile reacts negatively to it. However, a juvenile should not be shown, directly or indirectly that whatever action led to the initial conviction is being condoned or excused. For the path towards a better future for the juvenile to be being, there must be a conscious understanding that a wrong had been committed (Davidson, 2014). This can only be achieved through the forceful instilling of discipline and an inclination to obey, such as the one found in juvenile detention centers. This philosophical approach, therefore, does not include the elimination of juvenile detention. It, however, entails the enhancement of the punitive system so that it tends more towards rehabilitation than punishment. Further, the threat of punishment will act as a deterrent factor more so when a juvenile is made to understand that the next step in the punishment ladder upon recidivism will be harsher than the former (Davidson, 2014).
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Monitoring and Evaluation
Research has shown that when a juvenile is adjudged delinquent, there is an exponentially high chance that the juvenile will have another brush with the law during the age of minority and several other brushes with the law during adulthood (Davidson, 2014). It would, therefore, be fair to state that a juvenile delinquent is a quasi-permanent government project. Instead of waiting for the advent of recidivism to act against the juvenile, an approach that entails close monitoring of the juvenile while in detention and after would be more effective. This approach would ensure that the state knows what the juvenile is doing. Further, the juvenile should be made aware that the state is watching which would act as an active deterrent. Whereas it may seem expensive to keep an active watch on all delinquents, the criminal process upon the recidivism of one juvenile is cheaper than the cost of monitoring five juveniles (Davidson, 2014). In the long run, therefore, monitoring would be cost effective. Some of the monies spent on investigations, judicial processes, and punitive systems for juveniles can be donated to social workers and children’s officers. These professionals will create programs for monitoring the delinquents.
Restorative and Rehabilitative Programs
The first main driver of juvenile recidivism is the feeling that the crime committed is unforgivable. This creates self-loathing and prevents the juvenile from proper social responses. Eventually, the juvenile becomes an actual social misfit and crime recurs. The second social driver for recidivism is the feeling that the juvenile is beyond salvage and the society has given up. This creates enmity between the juvenile and the society thus making it easier and more excusable for the juvenile to commit a crime (Davidson, 2014). The aforesaid program for evaluating and monitoring juveniles can also be funded and equipped to handle restorative and rehabilitative programs. Restorative programs involve the juvenile making up for the wrong done through the complaint that led to a declaration of delinquency. If the juvenile had stolen, for example, the program can provide a means for the juvenile to work restore what had been stolen. If someone was harmed by the juvenile, the program can organize for reconciliation. Rehabilitation can be done through counseling and behavioral change programs run by the aforesaid organizations superintended by social workers and children’s officers. In the case of substance abuse which is a common problem among juvenile delinquents, rehabilitation for the same can be carried out contemporaneously (Davidson, 2014).
Educational and Vocational Training Programs
The average life expectancy in America is about 78 years. A juvenile who is declared delinquent at 12 has approximately 66 more years to live based on the said life expectancy. It would be too expensive for any system to support the juvenile for that long which makes it more feasible to create self-sustenance for the juvenile. This can be achieved through ensuring that the juvenile gains professional or vocational skills to work and earn in future (Davidson, 2014). Further, education and/vocational training will keep the youth physically and mentally occupied for a considerable amount of time. This will eliminate idleness that is a bearing factor on both delinquency and recidivism. Finally, studying will create an opportunity for positive social interaction. Some juveniles have had scary childhoods that are so full of violence and abuse that juvenile detention seems like a welcome respite. Social interaction during studies will teach these children positive interaction is possible among peers as well as older members of society. It will also reveal to the juveniles a personal capability for a positive interaction. By the end of education and/or vocational training, the delinquent will be equipped with skills to earn an honest living as well as positive social skills to live positively with other members of the society (Davidson, 2014).
Funding for the Programs
This four-step holistic solution for juvenile recidivism will definitely require finances to succeed. The amount being currently spent on juvenile delinquency and recidivism is, however, more than enough to run the entire program. However, all these funds are focused on step number one, which is discipline and deterrence. The current system is reactionary and waits for crime to happen then spring to investigate, try the juvenile and give harsher sentences since it is the second crime. If these monies were spent on anticipation and forestalling of recidivism through the outlined steps, less money would be spent in the reactionary stage since recidivism would be exponentially reduced. What the government needs, therefore, is not a source for more funds but rather a change in philosophy.
Juvenile recidivism is a major problem in all the states in America with many juvenile delinquents falling back into criminal ways after their first brush with law enforcement early in life. The current punitive philosophy employed by the criminal justice system is not only ineffective but also too expensive and counterproductive. This necessitates a change of philosophical approach that does not look at the delinquent as a problem to be solved but rather as a potential asset to the society. Punishment need not be eliminated from the matrix, but should be enhanced through proper monitoring and evaluation of all delinquents. This should be followed up with both restoration measures for the delinquents as well as their rehabilitation. Finally, skills can be imparted upon them to enable earning an honest living in future. This way, juvenile delinquents will be turned into positive members of the society and not potential statistics for recidivism.
Davidson, C. (2014). Restorative justice and the prevention of youth reoffending . United Kingdom: Newcastle upon Tyne.