NLC Looks to Develop National Program to Fight Juvenile Delinquency

Article excerpt

The Public Safety and Crime Prevention Steering Committee (PSCP) of the National League of Cities (NLC) is launching an initiative to coordinate and facilitate the development and implementation of a national model program that provides effective diversion from the criminal justice system for juveniles with mental disorders. NLC has strong policy advocating the need for juvenile delinquency prevention, intervention and rehabilitation programs within all levels of government. "It is not enough to have policy, we want to see some results," said Olden Henson, councilmember from Hayward, Calif., Chair of the PSCP Steering Committee.

Each year hundreds of thousand of youth, charged with delinquent acts, are locked up in juvenile detention facilities. Between 1987 and 1996, the number of delinquency cases involving pretrial detention increased by 38 percent. One of the most troubling facts of pretrial juvenile detention is that a majority of the youth should not be there at all. These youth offenders pose little risk of committing another offense before their court date or failing to appear in court--the two authorized purposes for juvenile detention. The inappropriate use of detention causes a hazard for youth, jurisdictions, and society at large. Research indicates that detention does not deter further offenses.

Admissions criteria and screening methods for juvenile detention facilities are the foundation to avoiding inappropriate detention. The fundamental issue with admissions and screening is changing arbitrary, subjective decisions to objective and rational ones. Most commonly used variables to determine if a juvenile should be detained are seriousness of the alleged offense, a prior record, probation status and the history of appearances in court. …