Give Vouchers to Rehab Poor Juvenile Delinquents

By Mauer, Marc | The Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Give Vouchers to Rehab Poor Juvenile Delinquents


Mauer, Marc, The Christian Science Monitor


President Bush has just submitted an education package to Congress that endorses the use of vouchers for students in failing schools.

While the concept of vouchers has provoked concern among supporters of the public schools, it nonetheless raises important questions about the role of public and private institutions in providing services.

Proponents of educational vouchers contend that it is unfair for the largely low-income and minority student population in inner- city schools to be subject to limited educational opportunities.

Their proposed remedy would permit these students to have greater access to private educational resources that have been largely unavailable to them.

If the voucher movement represents a genuine commitment to equal opportunity, though, why limit its scope to schooling? One obvious avenue of expansion would be the juvenile justice system.

As is true for inner-city public schools, the children populating the juvenile justice system are overwhelmingly low-income minorities.

This is not because middle-class children don't misbehave or commit crimes. Studies indicate that juvenile offenses cut across class lines.

The difference is that the crimes of middle-class children are by and large addressed with private resources, and less by the public justice system.

Suburban kids who develop a drug problem, for example, go to insurance-reimbursed treatment clinics, not to juvenile hall. Those who shoplift or engage in school vandalism often have the family resources to compensate the victims. And on the rare occasions when their criminal actions do land them in the juvenile justice system, a wealth of legal and social- services talent is at their disposal to achieve a nonpunitive resolution.

The response to similar behavior among low-income children in recent years has been quite different. As political concern about juvenile crime has escalated, the historically rehabilitative nature of the juvenile court has been largely eviscerated.

More juveniles are now tried as adults, punishment has replaced rehabilitation as a goal, and there is no longer a sense of mission that children need to be treated differently from adults.

Despite research that demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these approaches, political momentum at the state and national level contributes to ever-harsher approaches. …

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