Probation is a supervised period of testing where a felon is allowed an opportunity to display proper conduct outside of prison. Juvenile probation is the most commonly used sentence in the juvenile justice system. It upholds that a youth will have a better chance of rehabilitation in a home environment than in a jail facility. Youths on probation undergo extensive monitoring and supervision whilst completing court-ordered sanctions and services (Broemmel, 2004). For example, in addition to performing community service duties, the youth on probation may be ordered to pay money to the victim if the victim suffered any losses as a result of the crime. They youth offender may also be ordered to undergo counseling and in more severe cases, submit a DNA sample. Probation stipulations differ from one offender to the next, and some youth must abide by curfew restrictions ordered by the court, or attend day treatment programs. These programs often offer alternative school settings and provide other resources like anger management classes or social skill-building classes.
Despite the common misconception that juvenile probation is a mere slap on the wrist; the fact is that these youths must adhere to strict rules stipulated by the court. If they fail to adhere to any of the given rules as part of their probation, they will be removed from their homes and placed in an institutionalized setting. There are three types of juvenile probation: unsupervised, standard and intensive. Unsupervised juvenile probation provides the offender undergoes no supervised oversight. Standard juvenile probation requires the offender to attend regular meetings with a probation officer. Intensive juvenile probation requires intensive monitoring of the offender. It is a sentencing option for highly at-risk juvenile offenders who have a high need. Youths on this program are required to make daily contact with their probation officers (Broemmel, 2004).
The court process for juvenile offenders differs from that of adult offenders. It works as follows:
At this point charges are either denied, or a plea is entered. A judge decides if the youth will be released into the custody of his/her parents, or be placed in a detention center during this process. Conditions of the youth being released to the parents may include the following:
Going to school
Attending treatment services like counseling
Avoiding negative peers and/or victims
This is the trial phase of the court process. At this point the judge makes a decision about charges. If the youth is found guilty, the next step of the process is sentencing. This may be scheduled for a later date, or may happen during this step. If the youth is found not-guilty, all charges are dropped and the case is dismissed.
Disposition / Sentencing:
The judge decides on appropriate sentencing for the crime committed. The youth will either be sentenced to a juvenile correctional facility or be placed on probation. If the latter is chosen, there are conditions involved and conditions applied:
Payment for damages incurred as a result of the crime
Counseling, like Functional Family Therapy
Assessment and evaluation (www.cyfd.org).
The Evolution of Juvenile Justice and Probation
Youth justice and probation are at a critical juncture in their history and evidence of their effectiveness has been sought. For many years the effectiveness of probation played a supporting role in juvenile justice. The concern was not whether the offender would commit another crime; it was more a matter of whether or not proper help was provided. It was the specific mission of a probation officer the 'advise, assist and befriend' an offender. When this method proved ineffective, due to the development of repeat offenders, a method of 'non-treatment paradigm' was introduced (Burnett, 2004).
This method restructured probation work to a system of collaboration between the worker and the offender. Its aim was to provide help based on problems presented by the offender. Before this reform, the main purpose of the youth justice was to tend to the welfare of youth offenders (Burnett, 2004).
During the 1970's a trend to deinstitutionalize youth started. Youth offenders were moved from secure detention facilities to community based programs. These programs focused on rehabilitating the youths by communication instead of incarceration. In 1972 Massachusetts closed all its state juvenile facilities. Two years later, California started paying counties to keep youths out of state facilities. This move led to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974. The JJDPA then established a Federal office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention - which had the authority to conduct research and provide training to probation officers. This new Federal law mandated that states remove status offenders and dependency cases from confinement. For those youths who had to remain in secure confinement, it mandated that they be separated from adult offenders by 'sight and sound.' Four years later the law stated that all minors be removed from jail (Mucie & Goldson, 2006).
In 1984 the probation service was given an official Statement of National Operations and Purpose (SNOP) and affirmed a period of review where the service was required to provide evidence of effectiveness. Officers had to prove that their methods actually made an impact and produced positive results. Additionally, they had to prove the cost-effectiveness of the service and were challenged to reveal probation approaches to evaluative scrutiny.
By the mid 1990's the advance in requiring evidence of effective practice showed favorable results. By providing hard evidence of how money was spent in the probation programs, and how resources were utilized, probation officers experienced a metaphorical 'rebirth,' (Burnett, 2004).
The National Crime Survey showed that between 1973 and 1989 serious violent juvenile crimes were relatively constant. In 1993 these numbers jumped by one-third. In a state of panic, more than forty states introduced legislation to toughen penalties on juvenile offenders and to ease the process of trying youth offenders in criminal courts. Suddenly, jails nationwide experienced an influx of youth inmates. State juvenile courts were faced with yet another problem. Tougher justice for juvenile offenders and a reform of the juvenile justice system needed to be implemented. New laws were put in place and youths were given harsher punishments for their crimes. Sentences became more severe and probation conditions became much stricter (Mucnie & Godson, 2006).
Youths today are under all sorts of pressure. When these pressures seem too monumental to overcome, crime becomes common practice. In 2000, a study was conducted on a group of youth residing within a 25-mile radius of Gabriel Valley in Southern California (Wooden, 2000). The purpose of the study was to show that all teens, not just urban, lower-class youth, were subject to juvenile delinquency. Perhaps one of the most starling discoveries of the study was that 'at-risk' kids increasingly were shown to be white males from affluent middle-class suburbia. It is important to mention that not all teens turn to crime. In fact, most teens are respectable members of society who obey the law and attend school. They attend college and grow up to be well-balanced adults. This study focused on the few juveniles who do not fit into that category.
'At-risk' kids are the ones who feel isolated from their peers and often misunderstood by adults. In the search for acceptance by any group, they often choose delinquency as a method of camaraderie. Sadly, the crimes they commit are not innocent and they rapidly become caught up in a series of misdemeanors. This, in turn, lands them in the juvenile justice system which many of them will frequent for the rest of their teen years. The study shows that the only way to stop repeat-offenders is for the government and families to step in and show larger interest. Another alarming discovery of the study showed the increasing brutality of modern-day youth offenders. For example, a 13-year-old girl is abducted from a slumber party and murdered; a Christian youth assembly is interrupted when a gunman opens fire and starts shooting everyone in sight; increasing school shootings where one or two students enter a school and opens fire, killing students and teachers alike. In all the aforementioned examples, the perpetrators were teenagers themselves.
'At-risk' kids are no longer just inner city youths who are pressured into joining a gang or selling drugs. They are now suburban teenagers who come from stable homes and who choose, for whatever reason, to become juvenile delinquents. Once these crimes of murder and others, such as theft, are committed, more youths show up in front of a judge. It is at the sole discretion of the judge as to how these youths will be reprimanded. It has become popular practice for these youth offenders to end up in the juvenile justice probation system (Wooden, 2000).
Georgia Juvenile Justice System
The GA Department of Juvenile Justice's (DJJ) mission statement is "to protect and serve the Citizens of Georgia by holding youthful offenders accountable for their actions through the delivery of treatment services and sanctions in appropriate settings and by establishing youth in their communities as productive and law-abiding citizens." The DJJ follows specific steps with juvenile offenders. The intake process involves the juvenile court system as well as the court service system of the DJJ. The intake process may take one of several courses:
A case may be informally adjusted
A petition for adjudicatory proceedings may be filed with the juvenile court
The case may be delivered to services outside the court
The case may be dismissed
The process operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When a youth is taken in by law officials, the parents or guardians are notified. Release or detention conditions are based on the youth's risk to re-offend and risk of failure to attend court hearings. Based on the previous decision, the youth is either released into the custody of his/her parents or guardians, or transported to a Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC), (Shuman, 2009).
Most states have youth rehabilitation programs in place to help youths on probation achieve their highest potential. In all these programs, the youths work with professional staff on bettering themselves. In Georgia specifically this program has been successful. A recent study report released by the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections showed a 25 percent drop, statewide, in juvenile crimes (KMTV.com, 2006). Experts attribute those numbers to "a very active probation system." The effectiveness of the probation system prevents the trend of repeat offenders. New offenders are either placed on strict probation conditions or sent to prison. Juvenile Services administrator Chris Talkington points out that programs which treat youth offenders as well as parents of those offenders, play a key role in the success of rehabilitation (Talkinton, 2006).
Juvenile Crime Statistics
The numbers recorded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) do not include all crimes committed by youth offenders, because not all crimes are recorded. For the crimes which have been recorded, the statistics are as follows:
Arrest rates from 1987 - 1994 increased sharply among youth offenders. Murder rates and aggravated assault numbers doubled during this period
During this time, males were the forerunners in murder crimes, and most acts were committed with firearms
Arrest rates among females weren't as high as their male counterparts, but has been steadily increasing since the 1990's
In 2000, 28 percent of juvenile arrests were arrests of females
Since 1994, arrest rates among youths have seen a steady decline. Murder rates of and by youths in 2000 were 74 percent lower than in 1993
Drug rates, however, saw an increase during the 1990's and although it has not increased significantly in recent years, it has also not seen a decline (Flores, 2005)
Youths are typically arrested for the following crimes: assault, homicide, rape, robbery, arson, auto theft, burglary, larceny/theft, vandalism, weapons possession. In addition to violent crimes, there are also drug and alcohol violations and sexual offenses. Probation violations like curfew violations, refusal to obey parents, running away, truancy and underage alcohol consumption are also grounds for re-arrest.
More than half of the youth arrests made are because of theft, simple assault, drug abuse, disorderly conduct, and curfew violations. According to the OJJDP, theft has been the greatest cause of youth arrests.
In 1999, 2,468,800 juvenile arrests were recorded - of these, 380,500 were for theft
In 2000, 2,369,400 juvenile arrests were recorded - of these, 363,5000 were for theft
Drug abuse violations accounted for 198,400 of the 1999 arrests, and 203,900 of the 2000 arrests
Violent crime accounted for 103,900 of the 1999 arrests and 98,900 of the 2000 arrests
Regardless of these high numbers, juvenile arrest rates dropped by 5 percent from 1999 to 2000 (Flores, 2005)
Effectiveness of the Juvenile Justice Probation System
Juvenile crime statistics have seen a steady decline since 1994. An effective juvenile justice probation system is credited with the positive results. Several programs have been put in place to ensure the effectiveness of the system and the prevention of future youth crimes (Flores, 2005). Older strategies like scare tactics and youth boot-camps have been ineffective, and as a result newer, more effective ideas were implemented.
Model programs teach parents about raising healthy families, and youths about the negative impact of drugs and gangs. The programs are designed to make youths aware that there are consequences to their actions.
Recreation programs provide supervised 'free time' to youths. The Department of Education reported that most youth crimes occur from 2p.m. - 8p.m., peaking at 3p.m. The result of these recreation programs is that youths interact with adults and peers and establish healthy relationships, which makes these youths less likely to commit crimes. Programs are designed to address different skills (sport/art), so youths are participating in a program doing something they are actually comfortable with and enjoy doing.
With community involvement, like church youth groups, boy scouts and girls scouts, youths interact with peers in a safe community environment.
Prenatal and Infancy Home Visits by Nurses:
This program is designed to address low-income, single parent homes. The nurses focus on the health of the both the mother and the child. They are taught how to establish healthy relationships with their kids. After 15 years the nurses follow up with the mothers and the effectiveness of their previous visits are staggering. The youth of mothers who received prenatal and infancy visits, had a 56 percent lower runaway rate, and a 56 percent lower child arrest rate. These family homes also showed a 79 percent lower abuse rate than the homes of single mothers in low-income areas who did not receive prenatal and child visits.
Parent-child Interaction Training Programs:
This 12-week program teaches positive parenting skills to parents of children aged two to seven, who display behavioral problems. The process is guided by a therapist.
Bullying Prevention Program:
With this elementary- and junior-high school program, bullies and victims receive independent counseling sessions and set up class rules and group discussions to choke the problem.
Prevention Programs within the Juvenile Justice System:
Youth who enter the Juvenile Justice System are sponsored by the state to undergo rehabilitation and continue schooling. Their aim is to prevent these youth from re-entering the justice system at a later time.
Functional Family Therapy:
This program is specifically designed to help families who have youths on probation.
The program is divided into three phases and provides a therapist to work individually with each family member to offer positive encouragement to the youth offender. Phase one: adversity to therapy is broken down and the therapist explains the positive results of open communication. Phase two: the therapist shows family members how they can change patterns of behavior to prevent an 'episode' of delinquency. They are shown different alternatives on how to respond to everyday issues. Phase three: family members are encouraged to and shown how apply their new rational skills into different social situations. This low-cost program has been very effective in the rehabilitation of youth offenders (Flores, 2005).
Nationwide statistics as well as statewide statistics have shown that the Juvenile Justice Probation System is effective. Since its inception, crime rates among youth have dropped and continue to show a steady decline. Federal agencies have made every effort and adjustment to offer cost-effective solutions and resources to troubled youths. Law enforcement officials have been affective in apprehending youth offenders and placing them in appropriate programs that can contribute to their successful rehabilitation. Society as whole is more aware of how to approach, teach and care for 'at-risk' youths. They are responding favorably to the many resources available to ensure successful rehabilitation of youth offenders. At this rate, and with the help of parents, guardians, schools and the Juvenile Justice System, crime rates among juveniles will continue to decline.