Getting Smart about Getting Tough: Juvenile Justice and the Possibility of Progressive Reform

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION II. HISTORY OF THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM: FROM SALVATION TO PUNISHMENT III. THE CURRENT DEBATE IV. THE CURRENT STATE: WHERE THE SYSTEM STANDS V. GETTING TOUGH: CURRENT REFORM VI. ALTERNATIVES TO WAIVER

A. Juvenile Correctional Facilities.

B. Traditional Alternatives

1. Boot Camp

2. Restitution

3. Wilderness Challenges

4. Intensive Supervision

C. Hybrid Approaches

1. Florida Environmental Institute's Last Chance Ranch

2. Department of Justice Violent Juvenile Offender Program

3. Serious Violent Juvenile Offender Project

4. Systemic Alternatives: Small Facility Networks VII. REFORM: PROPOSALS AND SOLUTIONS VIII. POLITICAL REALITY: IS REFORM POSSIBLE? IX. POLITICAL STRATEGY FOR REFORM X. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Delinquency is a community problem. In the final analysis the means for

its prevention and control must be built into the fabric of community life.

This can happen only if the community accepts its share of responsibility

for having generated and perpetuated paths of socialization that lead to

sporadic criminal episodes for some youths and careers in crime for

others.(1)

The problem of serious, chronic, and violent juvenile offenders(2) arises at the nexus of numerous social welfare issues because these youths tend to grow up in environments in which both family structures and opportunity structures have deteriorated.(3) Poverty, inadequate housing, inadequate education, racism, child abuse, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, alcoholism, and endless other social ills can push youths onto paths of violent and criminal behavior.(4) Eradicating juvenile crime without addressing its relationship to these other issues is an impossibility.

Any juvenile justice system, then, must be looked at within this social context. Precisely because the problem of juvenile crime is directly related to these other issues, the juvenile justice system cannot eradicate juvenile crime independently. It serves as an escape hatch to deal with the most problematic juveniles without resolving the broader social problems that cause their behavior. Society makes value judgments about what level of juvenile crime is tolerable, what level of recidivism is acceptable, and at what point society is willing to give up on youths and lock them in secure facilities, considering in the balance the public's willingness to bear the costs of eliminating other related social problems.(5)

Thus, the juvenile justice system acts as a compromise at some level between rehabilitation and punishment, treatment and custody. It pursues two different models as it seeks to protect both the juvenile offenders, as victims of social disintegration, and the citizens against whom juveniles offend.(6) By nature, such a system combines social services and criminal justice, acting as a welfare agency to protect the best interests of the youths within its custody and as a legal authority to punish and control juveniles' deviant behavior.(7) This duality creates an internal inconsistency, as protecting juvenile offenders directly conflicts with public protection from the offenders' violent behavior.(8)

Historically, the juvenile justice system in the United States has struggled with this inconsistency by using rehabilitative and punitive treatments to balance the system's competing goals. The balance between rehabilitation and punishment has shifted numerous times, representing changes in the political climate. Perceived increases or decreases in crime rates affect the rhetoric of public debate and influence the political infrastructure to favor one model over the other.(9) Currently, public debate has moved the balance heavily toward the punitive side of a continuum that runs from pure treatment to pure punishment. …