4 Startling Juvenile Justice Problems We Need to Address Now

Advocates for juvenile offenders can do a little rejoicing this week. On Monday, president Barack Obama outlawed solitary confinement for kids in federal prisons, and the Supreme Court ruled those sentenced to life in prison for murder when they were under 18 can now seek parole, even if they were previously denied it out of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. But there are still many improvements in the system that need to happen.

1. Too many youth are locked up in their formative years.

Pick any day. And almost 80,000 U.S. youth are in a correctional facility, according to advocacy organization Youth First! President Liz Ryan. As ThinkProgress notes, about 75 percent of them are not a threat to public safety. And mirroring disparities in the incarcerated adult population, black youth are 4.6 times more likely to get locked up than whites, with Native American and Latino youth following close behind.

2. Being incarcerated can lead to long-term problems.

Studies have shown that getting jailed before age 18 makes people as much as 26 percent more likely to go back when older, and kids who’ve been incarcerated are less likely to graduate high school and make substantially lower salaries later in life. And if you want to break it down to cold numbers, the burden spreads to taxpayers as well: A study by the Justice Policy Institute reports that up to $21 billion goes toward imprisoning youth each year.

3. Many incarcerated girls suffer sexual or physical abuse.

A study done in part by Georgetown Law calls sexual abuse a “primary predictor of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system.” It provides examples where some whom are sexually trafficked are arrested themselves for prostitution or those who run away or use drugs because of the abuse they face. An Oregon study had 93 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system there reporting they were physically and/or sexually abused, and other state rates studied mirror these high numbers.

As the study writes, “Although some defend the practice of detaining victimized girls on the grounds that the system can provide protection or needed services, that justification cannot counterbalance the significant psychological and physical harms created by commitment.” It adds that access to services that can help victimized girls is limited, and they may even be re-victimized within in the system. In fact, 65 percent of girls in the system leave it with post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. While juvenile records are often expunged at 18, the Internet can sometimes make their records live on.

Records for crimes committed as youths are frequently sealed or expunged when offenders grow up, but the Internet can get in the way of giving them a “fresh start” as adults. As Minnesota’s Council on Crime and Justice notes, if the media reported on their cases at all, an Internet search may bring up a history that would be inaccessible in years past. (Granted, many youth court proceedings are closed to the public.)

These records can interfere with college admissions, housing applications and job hunting, according to lawyer Sharlyn Grace.

These are just a few of the many problems facing youth in the justice system. Feel free to add the issues you see in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

58 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sierra B.
Sierra B2 years ago

yes

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Rachel L.
Past Member 3 years ago

The US currently has over 2,500 people serving life w/out parole for crimes they committed as juveniles (17 and under). The Supreme Court ruling addresses only those sentenced under mandatory minimum laws -they will get parole hearings someday. Unless something changes the rest will not. Is that fair? That a juvenile will never merely get the POSSIBILITY of parole, i.e. a parole hearing....even after say 30 years? 40? 50! Granted some of these individuals' crimes are very heinous and there will be those that should never be released. That should be determined by parole boards. The US has relatively harsh sentences for violent crime. But life w/out the possibility of paroles for juveniles is beyond harsh....Idk what else to call it but unfair.

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Will Rogers
Will Rogers3 years ago

America doesn't seem to understand the adage "the punishment should fit the crime". They are too obsessed with punishment. It's like as if we were to beat toddlers with iron bars for stealing sweets! Ok that's extreme, but criminalising particular sections of the populace does seem to be almost a sport over there. It seems that saying "whites only feel safe when everyone else is scared". May be true.

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Marie W.
Marie W3 years ago

I think the lack of parenting is the issue.

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Beth Wilkerson
Beth Wilkerson3 years ago

serious issues

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