This paper proposes to change the current deterrence policy of juvenile offenders to a rehabilitation policy that embraces religious support programs, training programs, and education programs to mitigate the problem of juvenile recidivism. Thousands of young people are imprisoned every year, 81% of who are at great risk of reoffending in the future. Most importantly, isolating youths by assigning them to probation camps or imprisoning them is a form of punishment for crimes. Such punishment increases delinquency risks and has far worse consequences than doing nothing. However, religious support programs reduce juvenile delinquency by providing opportunities for offenders to change their behaviors, increase their social networks, and mitigate substance abuse behaviors.
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Training offenders allows them to set realistic goals and acquire important values for living with other people in society. Additionally, education programs transform the criminal behaviors of juvenile delinquents and, thus, result in a reduced number of crimes in the future. Therefore, it is the right time to replace the current deterrence policies that have no value but rather harm both the juvenile delinquents and society as a whole with policies that create an avenue for implementing these effective correctional strategies.
Juvenile crime is a common occurrence in society not only in the United States (US) but also in the world. American law enforcement officers reported about 1.6 million juvenile arrests that comprised almost 76,000 violent crimes in 2010 (Ryan, Abrams, and Huang 2014). Most of the crimes were committed against other people, such as rape and assault, with the culprits being detained, processed, taken to court, and imprisoned. Juvenile crime is costly, and those who perpetrate the delinquency are at an increased risk of repeating the same criminal behavior in the future. Therefore, an immediate need for the implementation of appropriate and effective mitigation strategies arises. In their study, Ryan et al. (2014) found that American juvenile corrections cost $241 every day compared to $68 for adults, yet the risk of recidivism is as high as 81% when incarceration is implemented as a correctional method. This finding shows that other than being costly, deterrence of juvenile criminals in prisons does not mitigate juvenile delinquency. However, further research has shown that alternative juvenile correctional strategies have proven to be effective in reducing re-offending behaviors in youths. Therefore, it is of critical importance to change the methods used to correct these offenders from the traditional ineffective prison incarceration aimed at punishing for crime to rehabilitative policies that embrace family, educational, and religious programs to reduce juvenile recidivism.
EFFECTIVENESS OF THE TRADITIONAL JUVENILE CORRECTIONS IN MITIGATING RECIDIVISM
It is of critical importance to implement juvenile correctional strategies if they are effective in either curbing or reducing criminal behaviors in youths. However, the traditional incarceration method whereby juvenile criminals are punished for their mistakes has been shown to have negative consequences in accomplishing the intended crime mitigation role (Ryan et al. 2014). Several research studies have proven this allegation, indicating the ineffectiveness of incarceration in deterring crime recurrence in juveniles. Whether comparing the traditional methods with the alternative correctional strategies, punishing youthful offenders through incarceration does not offer a solution to juvenile recidivism.
Juvenile incarceration and associated crime prevention strategies not only fail to promote crime reduction but also increase the risk of delinquency among youthful offenders. Petrosino et al. (2013) conducted a research study to assess the impact of programs that include organized prison visits by juvenile delinquents and pre-delinquents on deterring crime in society. ‘Scared Straight’ is one of the programs for children at risk of committing a crime or juvenile delinquents. These programs help the juveniles interact with prison inmates and observe the life experienced by prisoners, as a means of scaring them from coming into conflict with the law. According to Petrosino et al. (2013), the ‘Scared Straight’ program in New Jersey includes confrontational sessions whereby adults share stories with the juveniles about their life in prison. Other programs include youngster spending some time in prison to experience actual prison life.
These programs are likely to have a similar impact on juvenile delinquency as the actual punishment of crime through incarceration. For the research, Petrosino et al. (2013) reviewed nine studies conducted in eight different American states between 1967 and 1992 with almost 1,000 juveniles whose average age was between 15 and 17 years. The results of the research are reliable and sufficient, given the large sample studied in many places over an extended period, to make a conclusive argument on scaring and punishment strategies used to deter juvenile recidivism and delinquency.
The results indicate that in reducing juvenile recidivism, the use of “Scared Straight” and other traditional methods of confining juvenile offenders or exposing them to life and experiences in prison does more harm than good. The randomized trials under the review provided substantial evidence, which revealed that these crime prevention strategies were ineffective (Petrosino et al. 2013). Moreover, they increased the likelihood of reoffending in juveniles. The study further found that regardless of the program type ranging from the tours at the prison facilities to harsh conventional face-to-face interactions with imprisoned convicts, the outcome is the same. Petrosino et al. (2013) found that an increase in criminality was present in the group who underwent similar programs, which did not help prevent criminal behavior. This finding shows that it is better to do nothing about juvenile crime than to incarcerate or scare criminals by either exposing them to life in prisons or getting firsthand information on the hard prison life of prisoners.
Moreover, research has revealed that punishing crime by securely confining juveniles increases future delinquency. For example, Ryan et al. (2014) conducted a study to examine the risk of recidivism in juveniles who committed first-time violent crimes and were assigned to a secure probation camp, in-home probation, or group-home placement. These judicial dispositions were picked from the county of Los Angeles. 48% of all juveniles who had committed violent offenses reoffended (Ryan et al. 2014). The study indicates that each deterrence strategy out of the three mentioned above shows different efficiency in preventing delinquency. The risk of recidivism was 1.28 and 2.12 greater in youths assigned to group homes and secure probation camps compared to their colleagues assigned to in-home probation (Ryan et al. 2014). This finding shows that only in-home probation can efficiently interrupt criminal behaviors in first-time violent youthful offenders. Therefore, confining juvenile lawbreakers in secure environments away from their homes increases recidivism instead of curbing or mitigating it.
EFFECTIVENESS OF ALTERNATIVE CORRECTIONAL STRATEGIES
Alternative correctional methods aimed at reducing recidivism in juvenile offenders are effective, especially when they target behavioral modification of the youths. This means that correctional programs should aim at educating and training youngsters rather than punishing them for their law-breaking behaviors to reduce the occurrence of such behavior in the future. Vries et al. (2014) conducted research by combining findings from previous studies to determine the effectiveness of programs and methods used to ensure the reduction of juvenile reoffending behaviors. The multilevel meta-analyses included 39 studies with more than 9,000 participants whose ages ranged from 6-20 years with a mean of 14 years (Vries et al. 2014). This sample is large enough to provide reliable information for future generalization.
All programs that involved training and behavioral modifications in juveniles were effective. According to Vries et al. (2014), programs oriented at changing and modeling behavior, parental skills training, or behavioral contracting had the best possible outcomes and were confirmed to be effective. Similarly, home or family-based programs proved to be more beneficial than traditional group-based programs and offered the best anti-recidivism effects (Vries et al. 2014). This conclusion shows that confining youths in groups and exposing them to punishments has the least positive impact on delinquency compared to less intense educative strategies that avoid the isolation of youths. Therefore, it is important to adopt only the methods that have proven their effectiveness in reducing future juvenile crime.
Scholars have faulted punishing juvenile criminals by incarcerating them and supported educative programs, which proved to be empirically effective. Usually, the isolation of youthful offenders occurs through imprisonment, which results in their separation from their families, friends, and neighborhoods (Inderbitzin 2007). Incarceration becomes a source of stigmatization for youthful offenders because it brands them as people prone to criminal behavior. Inderbitzin (2007) argues that being in prison and lacking exposure to training programs fuels future delinquency. This method shuts their windows from accessing an opportunity to transform their behaviors, since the likelihood of reoffending increases under such circumstances.
However, offering training to the youths in juvenile schools has an immense impact on the lives of these offenders. The provision of training opportunities for young offenders reduces criminal behaviors because of the associated behavioral changes. Inderbitzin (2007) asserts that the blue cottage staff members always teach criminals to re-socialize and turn them into less violent and more mature young men who have realistic goals for their future lives. Having unrealistic goals compels the youths to indulge in law-breaking behaviors to suffice their dreams. However, training can help avoid such goals, which subsequently reduces the offending behaviors. The such model creates pro-social behaviors in violent youths and provides alternative strategies to envision a future with values and ideas of hard work (Inderbitzin 2007). This initiative helps the offenders adopt a new definition of life, and in the process reduces the likelihood of going back to criminal behaviors.
The use of religion in curbing the problem of juvenile recidivism further proves that alternative methods are more effective. Through a longitudinal analysis of the influence of religious support on post-release crime and non-crime outcomes, another conclusion was made. Stansfield et al. (2016) carried out such a study to determine the role of religious support in mitigating future delinquency in youths. The study found that religion provides an opportunity for youths to socialize and integrate into large social groups, which explains its role in crime prevention. Moreover, religion can form the basis for institutional support networks that can help juvenile offenders from prisons not only build but also repair their relationships, abstain from substance abuse, establish social support, and find jobs (Stansfield et al. 2016). The effect of religion on the social and substance abuse behaviors of juvenile offenders is responsible for the reduction of future delinquency. Therefore, it is time for the traditional policies that punish crime through incarceration to change and pave the way for programs that include religious intervention because of their proven effectiveness.
PROPOSAL FOR POLICY CHANGE
Correctional programs can have either harmful or useful impacts on the frequency of crime occurrence among youthful criminal offenders. Criminological interventions that cause harm to juvenile delinquents are equally toxic to their friends, families, and the community as a whole (Petrosino et al. 2013). Therefore, policymakers should take an active initiative to determine the effectiveness of each of the correctional programs and later implement the ones that have proven to have a positive impact on deterring future crime (Petrosino et al. 2013). Vries et al. (2014) explain that policymakers and clinical practitioners should opt for programs with the largest positive impact on preventing recidivism, especially the ones that are oriented on behavioral change. These programs can have a huge societal impact because the outcomes will include reduced crime in juveniles.
Based on empirical evidence, this research proposes that the current deterrence policy has to be substituted with a rehabilitation policy, which focuses on the execution of effective religious support programs, family-based prevention programs, and training programs, to mitigate the rates of recidivism in juvenile offenders. Behavioral programs have proven effective through empirical evidence in reducing delinquency among youths. Additionally, the current deterrence policy fuels criminal behaviors because it isolates youths from the members of society, punishes crime, and lacks the training aspect, which creates a conducive environment for growing violent criminals instead of mitigating the law-breaking behavior. If the policies intend to achieve reduced delinquency rates in juvenile offenders, it is time to shelve the current policy and embraces policies that include effective correctional programs.
In conclusion, the traditional correctional programs aimed at mitigating juvenile delinquency are ineffective, suggesting that it is appropriate to move to effective training programs, family-based programs, and religious support programs to enhance juvenile crime prevention. Incarceration of juveniles is expensive and has more harmful effects on future crime rates, which adversely affect society. Juveniles exposed to prison life and those who interact with imprisoned delinquents are at a higher risk of committing a crime, despite the intention of the program to prevent criminal behavior. Thus, future juvenile delinquency will increase if the current policy remains unchanged. The use of religion, training programs, in-home probation, and educational programs are the solution to the problem. Overall, in modern times when there are numerous types of research and studies on the effective ways to change the behavior of young criminals, the best solution is to take a stand and change the well-known yet ineffective policy.