Juvenile Justice: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going?

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Editor's Note: On Dec. 14, 1995, between record snowstorms and federal work furloughs, Managing Editor Kurt Olsson was able to hold a tele-conference with five leaders in the juvenile justice arena: John Wilson, deputy administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); Dean Louis McHardy, executive director, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges; Linda Albrecht, president, National Association of Juvenile Correctional Agencies; Geno Natalucci-Persichetti, president, Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators; and Gale Smith, executive director, Juvenile Justice Trainers Association. The following is an edited version of the telephone roundtable.

CT: First, I'd like each of you to address this question: Why don't the general public, media and federal and state governments see juvenile justice as being effective?

John Wilson: Well, I'm not sure that's entirely true, but, if it is, it's probably because we haven't done a really good job of getting the word out about the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system. OJJDP has been making efforts to do that by publishing documents like Prevention Works and the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) publication on effective and promising interventions in the juvenile justice system. And, we've highlighted prevention and graduated sanctions programs proven successful through our Guide to the Comprehensive Strategy.

The bottom line is that the system has been denied the resources to do its job effectively. That's one of the reasons we haven't been as effective as we could be. Another contributing factor has been the dramatic increase in the number of child abuse and neglect cases and the resources that have been pulled away from the delinquency side of the court to fund the dependency side. And, there has been media hype that focuses on violence and gangs but does not present the positive side of what's being done in the system.

We're doing a lot in many areas, not just programmatically in terms of treatment and rehabilitation, but in terms of youth involvement, law- related education, community service, peer mediation and conflict resolution and programs for victims. But, beyond that, the system can do a better job of identifying the needs of kids who come into the system by using risk classification and needs assessment instruments to put the right kids in the right programs in a timely manner, while providing a full range of programs for juvenile offenders. This is pretty difficult given financial constraints, but I think if we do a better job of assessing needs and putting kids in the right programs, we'll free up resources to put at the front end of the system which will help us provide a full range of programs. I think there are a lot of things the system can do to help the public perception.

Dean Louis McHardy: I would have to ditto practically everything John said. I agree with him wholeheartedly, and I can only add a couple of things. One thing that really impacts the system as a whole is the conflict within the system among groups who purport to be juvenile justice experts. There is blaming and name-calling of one group against another. Judges are blamed for either being too soft or too tough. So-called experts who have come in and out over the last 30 years and tried to reform the system are blamed, to the extent that a lot of confusion on the part of the public, state agencies and OJJDP has resulted. No one really speaks for the system as a whole, and frequently when someone does, he or she casts blame on others within the system. People blame the juvenile correctional system, they blame the juvenile probation system, they blame the judges, they blame the social service delivery systems.

A lot of people believe there has been a serious deterioration of morals and values among young people in the country, of what we might term "appropriate family life." We have reached the point where, in the state of Nevada where we're headquartered, more than 60 percent of the children in the state live in single-parent homes. …