Juvenile Delinquency Prevention

The most effective way to prevent juvenile delinquency has indisputably been to assist children and their families early on. Numerous state programs attempt early intervention, and federal funding for community initiatives has allowed independent groups to tackle the problem in new ways. The most effective programs share the following key components:

Education

Model programs have assisted families and children by providing them with information. Some programs inform parents on how to raise healthy children; some teach children about the effects of drugs, gangs, sex, and weapons; and others aim to express to youth the innate worth they and all others have. All of these programs provide youths with the awareness that their actions have consequences. This is particularly important in an era where youth are barraged with sexual and violent images. Educational programs have the underlying intent of encouraging hope and opening up opportunities for young people.

Recreation

One of the immediate benefits of recreational activities is that they fill unsupervised after-school hours. The Department of Education has reported that youths are most likely to commit crimes between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., with crime rates peaking at 3 p.m. Recreation programs allow youths to connect with other adults and children in the community. Such positive friendships may assist children in later years. Youth programs are designed to fit the personalities and skills of different children and may include sports, dancing, music, rock climbing, drama, karate, bowling, art, and other activities.

Community Involvement

Girl scouts, boy scouts, church youth groups, and volunteer groups all involve youth within a community. Involvement in community groups provide youth with an opportunity to interact in a safe social environment.

Prenatal and Infancy Home Visitation by Nurses

Nurses involved in the "Prenatal and Infancy Home Visitation by Nurses" program pay visits to low income, single mothers between their third trimester and the second year of their child's life. During these visits, nurses focus on the health of the mother and child, the support relationships in the mother's life, and the enrollment of the mother and child in Health and Human Services programs. A 15-year follow-up study found that mothers and children involved in the program had had a 79 percent lower child abuse rate, a 56 percent lower child runaway rate, and a 56 percent lower child arrest rate. Maternal behavior problems also dropped significantly in the studied group.

Parent-Child Interaction Training Program

The "Parent-Child Integration Training Program" takes parents and children approximately 12 weeks to complete. It is designed to teach parenting skills to parents of children ages two to seven who exhibit major behavioral problems. The program places parents and children in interactive situations. A therapist guides the parents, educating them on how best to respond to their child's behavior, whether positive or negative. The program has been shown to reduce hyperactivity, attention deficit, aggression, and anxious behavior in children.

Bullying Prevention Program

The Bullying Prevention Program is put into place in elementary and junior high school settings. An anonymous student questionnaire fills teachers and administrators in as to who is doing the bullying, which kids are most frequently victimized, and where bullying occurs on campus. Once teachers and administrators have learned about how and where bullying occurs at their school, they set up class rules and facilitate discussions that address the problem. Individual bullies and victims receive independent counseling. The program succeeds in creating a safer, less hostile environment for students at minimal cost.

Prevention Programs within the Juvenile Justice System

A youth entering the Juvenile Justice System has the opportunity to receive intervention assistance from the state. In the care of the state, a youth may receive drug rehabilitation assistance, counseling, and educational opportunities. The success of the Juvenile Justice System is measured by how well it prepares youth to re-enter the community without committing further crimes. Optimally, all juvenile detention facilities would catch youths up on their education, provide them with job training, give them the experience of living in a safe, stable environment, and provide them with assistance to break harmful habits.

The Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility

The Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility (NCYF) is an example of a successful juvenile detention facility that gears its programs toward restoring delinquent youth. The facility holds young adult violent offenders and juvenile delinquents who have been tried in adult court for committing violent crimes. The youngest inmates are 15 and the oldest are 21. NCYF is a "maximum security institution" that was designed to separate young violent offenders from adult offenders, and to assist young inmates by providing them with the help they need to change their behavior.

All inmates are required to participate in the educational opportunities provided by the facility. They are required to meet standards that are set forth by the prison on a person-by-person basis. Each inmate has the opportunity to earn a GED and to take community college level courses. The parents of inmates may follow their child's progress through communication with staff. While at NCYF, inmates are given the opportunity to work as teacher assistants, gardeners, recreational leaders, and kitchen staff. The facility's recreation program also provides an array of activities, from basketball leagues to ping-pong tournaments. An annual 10k is held, in which the inmates race with staff members. NCYF monitors the health of its occupants, in part, by providing drug rehabilitation counseling and by performing weekly drug tests.

A program unique to NCYF is "Project HEART." Prisoners who have met specified behavioral and educational requirements may train a pet dog. The dogs, deemed unfit for adoption because of behavioral problems, are given a home in the prison yard. A qualified inmate may be given a dog to take care of for a period of time. He (NCYF only holds male inmates) may bring the dog with him to his classes and activities. He is ultimately responsible for teaching the dog. After a period of training, the dogs receive "Good Canine Citizen Awards" and are set up for adoption through the Nebraska Humane Society. Inmates whose dogs are placed with a family, are given the opportunity to talk to the family, via phone, and give them tips on how the dog has been trained.

As a measure of the success it has experienced in rehabilitating violent offenders, NCYF received a 99.7 percent initial accreditation in August of 2000 from the American Correctional Association (ACA), formerly the National Prison Association.

Ending Repeat Offenses

Once out of detention, youths face the challenge of readjusting to "free" life. For many, youth detainment places a halt in a pattern of destructive behavior. Once out of prison, the youth must create a pattern of life separate from criminal activity. To assist in this process, courts have attempted to implement helpful social services for former inmates and their families. Some of these are job placement, school follow-up, extended counseling, and extended drug rehab. The Functional Family Therapy (FFT) program assists youth on parole by helping them and their families communicate in more effective, positive ways.

Functional Family Therapy (FFT)

The Functional Family Therapy program helps adolescents on probation - and their families. A family therapist works with the family and helps individual family members see how they can positively motivate change in their home. The program works in three phases. During the first phase, the therapist attempts to break down resistance to therapy and encourages the family to believe that negative communication and interaction patterns can be changed. In the second phase, family members are taught new ways to approach day-to-day situations; they are shown how to change their behaviors and responses to situations. During the third phase, family members are encouraged to move new relational skills into other social situations (school, or the workplace, for instance). FFT reduces recidivism rates and juvenile delinquency at a low cost. Twelve FFT sessions cost approximately one-sixth the cost of detaining a youth for one month. Another positive effect of the program is that the siblings of the youth on parole are less likely to commit crimes because of the help their family has received.

Ineffective Prevention Strategies

Scare Tactics

Currently, Americans are steering away from this tactic, as it has proven rather ineffective, but during the 1990s it was a technique that politicians and the greater community put much confidence in. Slogans such as "get tough on crime" and "adult time for adult crime" spoke to the common-sense core of many people who worried about rising juvenile crime rates. The basic ideology centered on the idea that crime rates were high because youth were not afraid of facing juvenile detention. General opinion held that the system had become too soft; the threat of confinement was not deterring youth from criminal activity.

Several major shifts occurred during this time:

  • Juvenile courts gave increased jurisdiction to adult, criminal courts. Courts authorized easier transfers of juveniles into the adult criminal court and, in some states, waived their authority over specified crimes.
  • Youths were sent to adult prisons in increased numbers. Younger offenders were sent to adult prisons as states tightened their definition of who was a child, and more court decisions placed youth in adult confinement.
  • Youths were issued longer prison sentences in the adult system than they would have been given in the juvenile justice system. Most of those sentenced, however, were not required to serve the full length of their prison terms.

The harsher penalties that came with the era of hard-time scare tactics were intended to lower crime rates and to express to youth that crime would not be tolerated. These penalties, however, did not achieve their intended effects. The approach was grounded in the idea that youth could be managed through fear. But fear was not a forceful impetus to motivate youth toward positive behavior. No direct correlation was witnessed between harsher sentencing and fewer first-time arrests, and youth that had been placed in the adult system actually had a higher recidivism rate than similar juveniles placed in juvenile detention facilities.

"Juvenile Boot Camp" and "Scared Straight"

In the years that "get tough on crime" policies were being established, various new programs were also attempted. One such program, Juvenile Boot Camp, received high publicity but had little success. "At risk" youth were placed into intense, structured, severe environments that were modeled after military boot camps. The Juvenile Boot Camps were intended to teach youth about structure and discipline but their success rates, which were measured based on their ability to prevent kids from committing future crimes, were low. For some youth, the programs were actually counter-productive. Another program, "Scared Straight," brought parole/probation youth into interactions with adult prisoners through meetings or short-term incarcerations. The program was designed to make young offenders frightened of the violent adult prison system. According to the Surgeon General at the time, the program was not effective.

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Keyword Tags: juvenile law, dui and dwi, drug offenses

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