Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Assessing Youth Early in the Juvenile Justice System

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Assessing Youth Early in the Juvenile Justice System

Article excerpt

Introduction

From 1994 to 2009, juvenile crime decreased significantly nationwide, yet rates of adjudicating and detaining youth rose steadily (Annie E. Casey Foundation Website, 2008; Bouffard & Bergseth, 2008; Knoll & Sickmund, 2011; Knoll & Sickmund, 2012; Puzzanchera & Adams, 2011). According to Puzzanchera and Adams (2011), levels of juvenile crime fell 50% between 1994 and 2009. Trends in detaining juveniles did not follow suit (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2010). Even as late as 2008, thousands of youth sat in detention and other confined settings. On any given night "an estimated 400,000 youngsters cycle through juvenile detention centers; and nearly 100,000 youth are confined in juvenile jails, prisons, boot camps, and other residential facilities" (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2008, p. 3). Roughly 40% of all detained youth are held for nonviolent offenses (e.g., status offenses, probation violations, low-level property offenses; Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013), making the United States a country that treats adolescent offenders more harshly than almost any other industrialized nation (Steinberg, 2013). Unnecessary detention is not an effective use of resources. Researchers have repeatedly documented that when juveniles are detained for low-level offenses detention does not have a deterrent effect, but may actually increase recidivism (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2008; Mendel, 2011). In addition, detention is a costly intervention, with states spending an estimated $5.7 billion annually to detain youth, most of whom could be safely managed in the community (Holman & Ziedenberg, 2006). If juvenile detention is unnecessary, ineffective, and costly, why then do we rely on juvenile detention as our primary intervention for juvenile crime in the United States? Many jurisdictions are in the process of reforming their juvenile justice systems to address these contradictory and damaging trends.

Research confirms that the practice of detaining juveniles for relatively low-level offenses is both ineffective and detrimental (Frazier & Cochran, 1986; Holman & Ziedenberg, 2006; Kenny, Lennings, and Munn, 2008). Potential iatrogenic consequences range from reinforcement of violent attitudes due to association with other high-risk youth (Ryzin & Dishion, 2013), mental health concerns (Teplin, Abram, McCelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002) and sexual health issues (e.g., increases in sexually transmitted diseases; Aalsma et al., 2012). Increases in violent behavior and subsequent law violations have also been cited as results of detaining low-risk juveniles (Mendel, 2011;Tonry, 2007). Holman and Ziedenberg (2006) note a variety of individuallevel negative outcomes that flow from detaining youthful offenders, including: (a) poor mental health outcomes; (b) barriers to education and, (c) obstacles to future employment. In addition, adolescents are commonly more vulnerable to negative influences, particularly salient, maladaptive peer pressures (Fried & Reppucci, 2001; Steinberg & Scott, 2003). Youth who have been detained also have worse legal outcomes than those who have not. Harsher legal penalties are more prevalent for youth who have been previously detained. Frazier and Cochran (1986) examined the severity of court outcomes among nearly 10,000 delinquent youth. They found that detained youth, regardless of offense seriousness, referral status, and various demographic variables, experienced much harsher outcomes at later decision-points in court-processing than did similarly situated youth who were not detained.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been on the forefront of efforts to reform juvenile detention and is active in roughly 36 states to advocate for evidence-based alternatives for low-risk youth. They argue that many low-risk youth end up in detention because other systems (e.g., education, mental health) cannot provide appropriate services (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2010). …

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