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185 locIncases of Juvenile arrest, rehabilitation, not punishment should be streesedWhy would our government try to hurt kids?Well, kids are being hurt right now. You see, in America punishment, ratherthan rehabilitation is being emphasized for juveniles who commit crimes. This way of thinking must stop with the addition of rehabilitation andprevention programs for juvenile offenders. States vary in their legal definition ofa juvenile.
In Illinois, for example, a juvenile is defined as any personbelow the age of 17. Using each states legal definition, the FBI reportedthat 62% of juveniles arrested in 1992 were referred to juvenile courts,5% to a criminal or adult court, 2% to a welfare agency, and 1% to anotherpolice agency. The kids sent to adult prisons were eight times as likelyto commit suicide. It has also been evident that those kids incarceratedwith adults are also more likely to become repeat offenders.
Legislation pending in congress now isdebating several issues. Among them are weather to have children as youngas 13 be prosecuted and sentenced as adults for certain crimes, give prosecutorsthe discretion to transfer a juvenile to an adult court in certain crimes,and allow juveniles to have incidental contact and in some cases be housedwith adults. I take an opposing point of view with thatof congress. If a 13 year old is imprisoned, how can he become a functionalmember of society upon his release? How will he create a positive lifestylefor himself? The real question is: How can he turn in any direction otherthan that of crime? He simple will not be able to.
If a child is sent toa prison to stay in a cell for hours at a time, the only life he will knowis the life he came from, not the life that could be his. Also, a prosecutorshouldn’t have the privilege to decide what court a kid is placed in. Aprosecutor has a built in bias; the decision should be left to a judgewho would look in the best interest of the convicted person. The statisticsprove that housing children with adults can only have a disastrous outcomefor the juvenile. The goal of juvenile detention should beto rehabilitate and develop the individual. Appropriate educational skillsneed to be taught.
Children need to be put in touch with their feelingthrough counseling. Juvenile offenders need to be exposed to role modelsfrom within their community and without. A sense of hope should be instilledso that the young offender is not resigned to the fate of a “second classcitizen. “More important than efforts to rehabilitatethe offender would be programs to prevent the juvenile from committingcrimes to begin with.
Keyshawn Johnson, a wide receiver for the NFL’s NewYork Jets, recently said “People hate to say it, but what you are aroundis what you’re going to be. At 13 years old and you’re around crime, you’regoing to be a criminal. ” For this reason, prevention efforts must involvethe entire community, including schools, faith-based organizations, business,law enforcement and most importantly, the parents. If parents are unableto properly educate their kids, then programs need to be developed to trainthe parents.
Boys and girls clubs basketball leagues, The Jessie WhiteTumblers, adult mentoring, and student exchanges are all positive preventionprograms that need to be continued and further promoted. It is imperative that our federal governmentset a tone and send the message that juveniles who come in contact withthe law are entitled to protections not available to adults. Rehabilitation,not long term imprisonment, should be the goal, and prevention now is preferableto punishment later. 2. 3 million juveniles were arrested in 1992.
It isin the best interest of America to see that these 2. 3 million do not becomeadult offenders.