The Establishment

America’s Justice System

Debby Erazo, Student Choice and Web Director

It’s long past time to close these inhumane, ineffective, wasteful factories of failure once and for all” says Patrick McCarthy, the president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Every one of them. We need to admit that what we’re doing doesn’t work, and is making the problem worse while costing billions of dollars and ruining thousands of lives.” For more than a century America has been neglecting the future of thousands of  juvenile offenders, posing questions that challenge both our values and morals.

But if we don’t incarcerate young people who do not abide by the law, what do we do with them?

The answer doesn’t actually involve much pondering:  We care and invest in their future; address the crisis that is submerging this nation into oblivion. The minute in which we invest in each young person’s future is the same moment in which we start carving a path towards a better tomorrow.

Juvenile justice administrators agree that a community based approach is best when it comes to dealing with kids considered ‘juvenile delinquents’. Every year, taxpayers spend between 8 and 21 billion dollars on indirect costs of youth incarceration, like future lost wages, lost educational opportunities and reliance on public assistance.

Advocates against the imprisonment of adolescents, like Patrick McCarthy, also claim that  any remote institution is contradictory to what has been found through research about the adolescent mind. The prisons are geographically isolated, making it impossible for the detainees to socialize or remember the importance of home or family.

The evidence is clear. What helps young people reach success is the same thing that helps young people in the juvenile justice system: recognizing the individuality from each individual youth, including their families; building on their specific skill sets; keeping them safe; and ensuring access to quality education.  

Every community and juvenile detention center offers a very different experience, Adrian Sanchez, a senior at Da Vinci Communications, who went through the juvenile justice system, recounts his own experience:

“Being in a detention center can be a very bad experience if you look for problems,” he narrates.

When presented with the fact that on average, juveniles were involved in one-quarter of all serious violent victimizations (not including murder) committed annually over the last 25 years, Adrian stated that he infact wasn’t “surprised by any statistic, because in juvie [he] met so many people [his] age that have been charged for attempted murder.”

A comprehensive continuum of care for justice involving youth is more than a couple of strung goals and alternative programs in detention centers. Instead, a comprehensive system takes into account all possible environmental factors that play an important role in the development of adolescents.

A holistic approach to youth would help them before they even get to the justice system and after they’re there, pinpointing the cause of their behavior that can lead to delinquency.

Adrian offers advice to anyone who finds themselves in a tough situation: it’s important to remember “there are always two options, there is no such thing as not having a choice.”

Yes, close youth prisons because although they make everyone feel safer, they deteriorate and detain the success of thousands upon thousands of young Americans.

Community work may take more time demanding creativity and ingenuity, but the overall profit of this community-based approach would make up for it.

Shaena Fazal, a journalist for The Justice Policy Institute emphasized that “when communities are properly resourced, anything that can be done in a youth prison can be done in the community, only better.”