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ALTERNATIVE SANCTIONS FOR JUVENILES

It has been well documented that placing juveniles in detention facilities increases their likelihood of future offending; therefore detention is commonly used as a last resort for delinquents who are habitual offenders or have committed serious crimes. Following the Great Recession beginning in 2007, many states began to reconsider juvenile confinement practices and sought less expensive alternatives. Due to the exorbitantly high cost of incapacitating juveniles and the recognition that placement in the community is more effective in reducing recidivism, states increasingly turned to alternative options that allowed juveniles to remain in their communities, while still being supervised and provided with rehabilitative services (Butts & Evans 2011). These alternatives include nonresidential treatment-oriented programs, changes in detention practices prior to adjudication, and home confinement of juveniles.

In the last 15 years, there have been major advances in evaluation research, and both private foundations and the federal government have invested significant funding in assessing the effectiveness of various forms of treatment. This research has produced fairly consistent evidence that treatment-oriented programs, especially those that focus on interpersonal skill development and parent/ family interventions, are considerably more effective than punishment-oriented ones (Lipsey & Wilson 1998; Lipsey et al. 2000). Research has identified effective nonresidential treatment programs for minor and first-time offenders as well as effective residential interventions for serious and chronic offenders. In addition to Lipsey’s research, the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence has identified a number of “Blueprint Programs” that have produced reductions in recidivism (e.g., multisystemic therapy, life skills training, and multidimensional treatment foster care).

Likely the most notable effort in the United States to reform pre-adjudication detention practices and retain juveniles in their communities is the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) (Mendel 2014). Started by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) in the 1990s, over 40 sites have implemented the JDAI model. While a brief pretrial detention may appear trivial, this practice has a serious impact on the long-term outcomes of juveniles. For example, juveniles who are detained prior to adjudication are treated more punitively during the adjudication and placement phases when compared with juveniles who are allowed to remain at home prior to adjudication; these findings occur even after controlling for factors that would be expected to impact adjudication outcomes (e.g., delinquency history, seriousness of the offense) (Jordan 2012). Additionally, incapacitated juveniles fare worse in several important long-term outcomes, including employment, education, and mental health, when compared with juveniles not exposed to detention. Recommendations made by the AECF under the JDAI include detaining only juveniles who are at risk or dangerous, developing community alternatives to detention, and developing alternative solutions to detention for low-risk juveniles who have violated probation (The Annie E. Casey Foundation 2013). One of the main goals of the AECF is to prevent juveniles from unnecessarily moving deeper into the juvenile justice system. While all states nationwide have recently experienced decreases in detention populations as juvenile offending rates have been falling, jurisdictions that have implemented the JDAI model have had even greater reductions in detention rates (Mendel 2014).

Home confinement has also become an increasingly popular alternative to confinement for judges, especially now that it is coupled with electronic monitoring (EM) in many agencies (Development Services Group and Inc 2014). EM allows for probation and parole departments to maintain a degree of control and supervision over juveniles but at a much lower cost than secure confinement. While these benefits are compelling, concerns have been raised that EM is harmful to the reentry and rehabilitation of juveniles, potentially drawing them further into the juvenile justice system (Weisburd 2015). Additionally, EM results in net widening, where juveniles who would have received little or no supervision are now monitored. As juveniles are increasingly placed on EMs, it is more likely that they will be rearrested and adjudicated for technical violations. Research on the effectiveness of EM programs in reducing recidivism of juveniles tends to be mixed, suggesting that EMs may not be the most effective solution in responding to juvenile delinquency. Despite the questions over the effectiveness of EMs, they represent just one of the changes that have been made in recent years as the juvenile justice system begins to shift back toward a rehabilitative orientation and becomes less reliant upon detention.

 
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