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In cases of juvenile arrest, rehabilitation should be stressed instead of punishment. Why would our government try to hurt kids? Well, kids are being hurt right now. In America, punishment is emphasized for juveniles who commit crimes instead of rehabilitation. This way of thinking must stop with the addition of rehabilitation and prevention programs for juvenile offenders. States vary in their legal definition of a juvenile.
In Illinois, a juvenile is defined as any person below the age of 17. According to the FBI, in 1992, 62% of juveniles arrested were referred to juvenile courts, 5% to a criminal or adult court, 2% to a welfare agency, and 1% to another police agency. Juveniles sent to adult prisons were eight times more likely to commit suicide and become repeat offenders.
Legislation pending in Congress is debating several issues, including whether children as young as 13 should be prosecuted and sentenced as adults for certain crimes, whether prosecutors should have the discretion to transfer a juvenile to an adult court for certain crimes, and whether juveniles should be allowed to have incidental contact and, in some cases, be housed with adults. I take an opposing point of view to that of Congress. If a 13-year-old is imprisoned, how can they become a functional member of society upon their release? How will they create a positive lifestyle for themselves? The real question is: how can they turn in any direction other than that of crime? They simply will not be able to.
If a child is sent to a prison to stay in a cell for hours at a time, the only life he will know is the life he came from, not the life that could be his. Also, a prosecutor shouldn’t have the privilege to decide what court a kid is placed in. A prosecutor has a built-in bias; the decision should be left to a judge who would look in the best interest of the convicted person. The statistics prove that housing children with adults can only have a disastrous outcome for the juvenile. The goal of juvenile detention should be to rehabilitate and develop the individual. Appropriate educational skills need to be taught.
Children need to be put in touch with their feelings through counseling. Juvenile offenders need to be exposed to role models from within and outside their community. A sense of hope should be instilled so that the young offender is not resigned to the fate of a second-class citizen.” More important than rehabilitating the offender would be programs to prevent juveniles from committing crimes in the first place.
Keyshawn Johnson, a wide receiver for the NFL’s New York Jets, recently said, People hate to say it, but what you are around is what you’re going to be. At 13 years old, if you’re around crime, you’re going to be a criminal.” For this reason, prevention efforts must involve the entire community, including schools, faith-based organizations, businesses, law enforcement, and, most importantly, the parents. If parents are unable to properly educate their kids, then programs need to be developed to train the parents.
Boys and Girls Clubs basketball leagues, The Jessie White Tumblers, adult mentoring, and student exchanges are all positive prevention programs that need to be continued and further promoted. It is imperative that our federal government sets a tone and sends the message that juveniles who come in contact with the law are entitled to protections not available to adults. Rehabilitation, not long-term imprisonment, should be the goal, and prevention now is preferable to punishment later. 2.3 million juveniles were arrested in 1992.
It is in the best interest of America to ensure that these 2.3 million individuals do not become adult offenders.