Those who intentionally commit crimes should pay for their misconduct. Most of the time this punishment occurs within the prison system. However, while incarceration has its merits for violent offenders, it should not be used in the case of juveniles. Minors who commit crimes should be required to undergo psychiatric evaluation and extensive counseling if needed before receiving their sentence.
Juvenile detention centers often resort to a strictly punitive action, leaving disturbed and violent youth without the proper care they need. If these detention centers were instead substituted for behavioral rehabilitation centers, there would be fewer second- and third-time offenders. Money that would have been previously spent solely towards removing youth from a larger social sphere could make it possible for these same youth to re-enter society as valuable individuals one day.
This is not to say that young people who are a risk to themselves or those around them should be allowed to roam freely. But violence isn’t usually a common factor in those who end up in these juvenile detention centers. Over 30,000 youth are sent to juvenile detention centers each year. Seventy percent of kids in “juvie” are detained for non-violent offenses. These youth are sent to detention centers almost identical to prison (42 percent of centers use mechanical devices to restrain inmates, while 45 percent locked some inmates in solitary confinement) in an attempt to straighten them out, but often the time spent there only furthers them down a path of destruction, illegal activity and violence.
The way to get troubled teens to make a positive change in their lives is not to surround them with hundreds of other troubled teens, but to equip them with the tools to become integral parts of society through counseling and vocational training. The entire concept of juvenile detention centers is cruel, ineffective and has no proven success in the past. Youth who are detained are 37 times more likely to be arrested again as an adult.
Along with the fact that incarceration does nothing to prevent further crimes, it also has a massive impact on a youth’s mental and physical health. Confinement and separation from family at such a crucial point in a young person’s life is detrimental to their recovery and makes them more susceptible to the influence of peers within the institution who have committed the similar crimes, or worse ones. For one-third of the youth who were diagnosed with depression in detention centers, the onset of the disorder began post-incarceration. In addition, 40 percent of incarcerated youth have learning disabilities that will inevitably affect them if and when they attempt to progress in their education.
Detention centers do not foster change or progression. They lump young people from disadvantaged areas who have grown up alongside substance abuse and violence together in an attempt to stifle the muted cries for attention and understanding that landed them there in the first place. Creating centers for teens who have committed illegal acts that implement therapy, training and opportunities for their futures will give them the chance of redemption that “juvie” would not provide.