Juvenile facilities are youth detention centres and the key distinction between prisons and juvenile detention being that “juvi” advocates rehabilitation. Young people, until their late 20’s, have developing brains with the capacity for change. Annually, over 1.3 million American youth, are arrested and 60% face confinement for non-violent offenses such as status offense, drug offense, probation violation, or property crime. Rehabilitative efforts like religious services, financial management training, behaviour management, and writing classes, do help.
Despite such efforts, the trauma of being detained has very negative consequences for young people. Research reveals that as more youth are involved with the juvenile justice system (from arrest to detainment to transfer to an adult court), the higher their chances for early and violent death. Juvenile detention enhances risks for poorer educational, economic and social outcomes in terms of achievements, gainful employment and relationships.
What happens in Juvenile Detention?
Inside juvenile detention facilities, the physical environment has an industrial feel, with limited natural light and chain-linked fences topped by barbed wire. Youth incarcerated are away from their support systems- family, friends or others. While some youth are removed from abusive home-situations, the high-threat facilities of secure juvenile facilities are not rehabilitation-oriented. Maltreatment in youth detention facilities occurs frequently. A survey, records that 42% of youth in detention are afraid of being attacked, 45% report excessive force by staff and 30% state that their staff use isolation as discipline. Isolation at young ages induces negative psychological physiological reactions leading to mood disorders, like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Under stressful conditions, youngsters find it difficult to learn or grow. Most youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced early life abuse and neglect, compounding the impressionable negative effects of painful experiences.
No one ‘magic number’
Clinicians and academics commenting on the California bill mention court rulings when sentencing youths, international standards on juvenile justice, and developmental research, as reasons for adopting 12 as the minimum age for children to be sent for juvenile detention. But strong evidence for 12 as the lowest age for sending children to detention, as providing major benefits, does not exist. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007, announced year 12 as the absolute lowest age for taking criminal responsibility, but advocated strongly in favour of higher ages of 14 or 16. Research investigating brain development in youth was then rudimentary but 13 years later, it is certain that experiences during adolescence impact brain development and behavior into adulthood.
Reforms are necessary
Systemic overhaul to address current juvenile confinement conditions and existing diversion programs continue to affect youth of all ages. The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, of the Annie E. Casey Foundation over 25 years ago monitors in over 300 counties, the treatment of teens and adolescents in safe detention facilities and diverts youngsters or limits time spent confined. Instead of detention facilities, youths are confined in their homes, in shelters and reporting centers. This approach lowers the number of crimes committed by the youth, as 70% and 80 % of youth involved in the conventional juvenile justice system generally face re-arrest within just 3 years of their release. Rather than focusing on specific ages for juvenile detention, ensuring truly rehabilitative confinement is developmentally appropriate for all youth.