Helping Out Our Troubled Youth

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Helping Out Our Troubled Youth

Without a doubt there has been a noticeable amount of juveniles that have committed crimes and now they are paying the price. Is punishing them the only solution though? Instead of making their lives worse, we should try to help them better themselves so that one thing doesn’t ruin their lives. When someone makes a mistake at a young age it usually affects them their entire life, but if we helped them they could turn their lives around and become a thriving part of the community. Imagine a society where people help others to become better, so that as a whole the world improves. Certainly this sounds like a good idea, and though it is easier said than done, it is a very possible elective to the “old school” way of doing things. An entire 180 degree turn around isn’t going to happen over night, and it probably won’t happen in the near future, but even changing minor things can help improve their lives and ours.

Crimes are committed by different types of people, from old to young, and every race; crime doesn’t discriminate. When a kid commits a crime they are punished too. In most cases it is not as severe of a punishment as when an adult commits a crime, but but many young people are still convicted. The question is, are we being too harsh with these kids? While there are some crimes that cannot be overlooked, other crimes are forgivable and we should think about an alternative option to the "conventional" way of punishment. One program that appears to be helping is the EQUIP program.

"The EQUIP plan is unique because it takes a more comprehensive approach to treating delinquents. Some programs have focused in building a positive peer group among delinquents, using peer pressure to develop positive attitudes and behaviors. The problem is that delinquents often don’t have the social and moral skills to help each other.’What EQUIP does is give delinquents the social and moral skills to change, and also provide the peer culture that will motivate them to actually make changes in their lives.”(USA,Pg1)

These are the types of programs that need to be given a second look at; the ones that actually help these kids better themselves so that they can better their lives. Rehabilitation, not through punishment and incarceration, but through making juveniles make the changes they need to succeed in this world, instead of ruining their lives. Now there are dozens of programs that are out there, some have new ideas that haven’t been tried, some have results, others haven’t seen progress, but if we don’t test out new ways of thinking then we can never advance from where we are now.

Once a kid goes through the correctional system, statistically, they are more likely to go back than someone who hasn’t been detained. That fact is why we need to change something in our system when it comes to dealing with juveniles that have been convicted of crimes, major or minor. “According to research tough love approaches, including extensive supervision, arrest, boot camp, detention, fines, restitution, and drug testing, have limited to negative effects on reoffense rates” (Balkin, Garcia, Lancaster, and Valarezo, pg 1). A prime example of why the system needs to be changed to something new and inventive, the old way isn’t doing its job. There isn’t as much research on this as one would think though, and there are very few studies on this that have been published about either side of the fence. While it could be from the lack of research, the numbers that have been taken don’t boast well for our current correctional system, but numbers for programs outside of the normal programs, like counselors and peer groups have different results all around. One of these studies does have some promising results, and by using two groups, a control and a treatment group, they looked at both sides of the story. The outcome of this test has a lot of information that supports the argument that having us help these kids is working better than if we just let them be after they are punished. One group, the control, was left without counseling or any type of rehabilitation after being convicted, the other went through counseling and went through the treatment program. The numbers alone speak for themselves, for the control, 54% of those who didn’t undergo counseling reoffended, and most of those offences happened within a year. For those in the treatment group 46% reoffended, and 60% of those offences happened within about 3 months after the program was finished (Balkin, Garcia, Lancaster, and Valarezo, 4). Even though it doesn’t seem like much, it made a difference, and a noticeable one in the difference between the two groups that supports that we need to make changes in the way that we handle these situations. In the occurrences of reoffending from the treatment group it happened so quickly that they were the ones that were going to reoffend regardless of what program they were in, just as some from the control group were bound to reoffend because it isn’t always easy to get away from their old lives. It may seem that we are fine right now, but if there are better options out there for rehabilitation we should at least explore these opportunities.

Looking at what other countries have done in the past and how they have changed is another way that we can learn to better ourselves as a nation. The United States is obviously not the only country that has had problems with their correctional system, and many other countries have tried to incorporate new ideas and treatments into their old way of doing things. Canada is one of these countries and they at first got mixed results, but has seen extraordinary changes in their system after changing a few things in the way that they treat juveniles. This has been successful mainly helping those with minor offences such as theft or property damage. Additionally, it has made a noticeable impact on the way that these cases are being handled. For decades now the government of Canada has been trying to help their youth. This became a focus when the old Juvenile (JDA) was replaced with the Young Offenders Act (YOA) in 1984; 30 years ago (Sprott. 1). Since then, there have been so many changes to the system that is has been hard to keep track of everything that has been improved. The court system has changed its policy and has become more lenient towards less serious crimes so that these crimes don’t remain on their record, and it also has changed the bail conditions for these youths (Figure 7, 6). While this new act in Canada, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has made changes that have made it easier on kids, it also has changed things to prevent them from skipping bail or failing to report to court. While it is more of a tough love approach I believe that this is helping them in a way, by saying to them that they need to give the court respect if they are going want the court to go easy on you. This isn’t a perfect example of how change can improve and prevent juveniles from reoffending; but there isn’t a perfect example to examine. More needs to be done and alternative options must be explored.

Why should we help these kids? Many people would ask this question and for some the question seems very valid. For one argument, you could say that these kids deserve to be punished as harshly as possible so that they can learn their lesson. A better argument to why we should keep them locked up, no matter what their age is, would be that they can actually get better help in a correctional facility than they would be able to in a group session or a meeting with a counselor. One could defend the fact that there is education in these facilities, as well as counseling and mentorship from outside mentors (Shortstein). While this all sounds good, they are still locked up, away from home, and in an environment where it is hard to thrive. Instead of wasting time and resources on keeping these kids incarcerated, we should give them things like education, counseling, and special services - without taking them away from the real world. A tough love technique has been used in the past and it worked to an extent, but maybe it’s time to move on from that and try a new technique that may improve the lives of these kids. If they could improve the situation, while still detaining the juveniles, I would agree with it, but if we want to change their lives for the better, more help, and less punishment is the way to go.

Since the beginning of our civilization there have been many different ways of dealing with punishment for crimes, and it seems like we have progressed from the stockades and the knuses. Now there is debate over how we should treat criminals, and where we draw the line for children and the severity of their crimes. Rehabilitation is the way it is worded, whether its imprisonment, or counseling, they say that it is helping in both situations, but is it really? To take someone out of the real world and put them in a cell, only to see other criminals and maybe a few guards, doesn’t help them better themselves, it at best gives them time to think about what they did wrong and maybe they’ll change something about that. But if we truly try to help them, through group meetings, and new types of counseling, we can actually give them the tools that they need to turn their lives around. If we don’t try to help them, it seems like we are giving up on them, and at that point there is no motivation for them to better themselves and those around them. With programs out there like the EQUIP program, and others similar to it that have had great results, it seems that it would be a waste not to incorporate these types of treatment into our current system so that we can give these teens a better chance of success in a life where usually all of their chances were taken away or never there to begin with.

Works Cited

  1. Balkin, Richard S.,et al. “An evidence-based approach to reducing recidivism in court-referred youth.”Journal of Counseling and Development 89.4(2011): 488+. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Mar. 2015
  2. "Reducing number of repeat offenders." USA Today [Magazine] Apr. 1994: 6. Student Edition. Web. 12 Mar. 2015
  3. Shorstein, Harry L. "Violent Teen Criminals Need Adult Justice." School Violence. Ed. Lucinda Almond. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Current Controversies. Rpt. from "Statement on Juvenile Justice."Executive Summary, State Attorney, Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida (Sept. 2006): 14-23. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 12 Mar. 2015
  4. Sprott, Jane B. “The persistance of status offences in the youth justice system.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2012:309+. Academic OneFile. Web. 2Mar. 2015