Does treatment work? Evidence shows it is too early to rule out rehabilitation for juveniles. The fact is, treatment, as a whole, can work even though not one particular treatment is more effective than another.
a) The Problem of Status Offenders
In a society as complex as the one in which we live, crime and punishment seem ever so prevalent. One may argue that the deterioration of the family has led to the deterioration of the nation as a whole. Some blame parents, while others blame legislatures for the perpetuation of a lawless generation. Is the general deterioration in society due to the faulty, lax, judicial system that provides its youthful offenders with pacifiers instead of workfare? The train of thought is, adults receive time, while children receive treatment for their criminal behavior. Which makes the Juvenile Justice process a civil system, not a criminal system. I agree treatment is necessary for status offenders, but not for all juveniles.
b) The Difference between Status and Serious Juvenile Offenders
Under Connecticut State Law, there are five categories of minors who fall under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. One of the categories is that of status offender: a child in a family with service needs, who is under sixteen years of age. The child’s behavior warrants court intervention because he/she is a runaway, there is poor parental control, incidents of indecent or immoral conduct, truancy, or disruptive behavior in school. On the other hand, the Connecticut law recognizes a child who commits a crime, inclusive but not limited to murder, arson, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, and first and second degree assault, as a “serious juvenile offender.”
c) Deinstitutionalizing Status Offenders
The removal of Status Offenders from secure facilities that also house delinquents, is both to reduce their interface and personal relationships with serious delinquent offenders and to insulate them from the stigma and negativity of being incarcerated.10 Due to the overwhelming concern about the possible effects of labeling, (which can be the primary cause of career delinquency), efforts have been made to deinstitutionalize the Status Offenders.
Effective May 23, 1994, pursuant to CGS-46-133 (g), the admission criteria at the Juvenile Detention Centers operated by Connecticut Judicial Branch changed. The change was made because of the significant increase in the number of juveniles being referred to detention. The Centers located in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport will only accept the following juveniles for admission:
1) Juveniles charged with a serious juvenile offense as defined by CGS-46-120;
2) Juveniles who are the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant or other court order to take such child into custody; or
3) Is ordered by the court to be held in detention; or
4) Is being transferred to such center from another center to await a court appearance;
Juvenile who does not fall within one of the above categories of this admission criteria is considered a Status Offender. In the case of juveniles for whom detention is sought solely because a parent or guardian can not be reached or the parent, guardian or shelter refuses to take the juvenile, the officer must first notify the DCF.11
Housing status offenders with serious offenders can be easily compared to putting juveniles in adult jails. Rosemary C. Sarri, debate 17, in Children’s Legal Issues, agrees there should be an absolute prohibition against the placement of children and adolescents in adult jails and correctional facilities, and the jailing of children and youth is wholly unnecessary. She is more concerned about the experience the juvenile will encounter, through abusive language and treatment while incarcerated. Incarcerating children does not “teach them a lesson.” Sarri suggests other effective alternatives and humane conditions should be considered. The fact is, the majority of youths are charged with misdemeanors and treated as if they committed felonies. Minorities are unfairly represented in the Juvenile Justice System, as well as being educationally disadvantaged youths.12 Treatment should be proactive, not reactive, as the aftercare for juveniles is patterned after the adult parole criminal justice system. This period is crucial, and determines whether the juvenile will need further rehabilitation and supervision. Also, supported by the empirical research of Thomas Kelley, he concluded that, “Status Offenders (and other offender types) may be pushed toward more serious types of behavior because of the effects of court processing. . . These findings would appear to lend support to the position that status offender statutes should be substantially revised or that most such offenders should be removed from juvenile court jurisdiction.”13 Justice Boochever and Chief Justice Rabinowitz shared the same view when concluding on an opinion in the LAM vs State of Alaska, Supreme case,”Protection of parental rights to care, custody and supervision do not seem to be an appropriate rationale for placing a child in an institution”. In cases involving status offenders, only after all else falls, should placement in a closed setting be justified.14
To express my opposition towards the disservice and wasted tax dollars absorbed by the Juvenile Justice System for children with family needs is to call the present system obsolete and unsatisfactory. Recently, the dilemma of a pregnant algebra student was disturbing to me, because she had, “no place to go.” Unfortunately, she was the product of drug abusive parents, who were unable to provide care, custody, and protection. The mother was in a “rehab” program, and the father continued to refuse treatment. The student was placed in detention because she disobeyed a court order to attend school. Being incarcerated, pregnant and with no where to go are extremely stressful risk factors for a fourteen year old adolescent. In spite of many court appearances, authorities were contemplating over adequate placement, and the mother had agreed to relinquish parental custody rights to the student’s boyfriend parents. Other alternatives were available, however, finding the “best interest for the child,” seemed to be way overdue.
As indicated in LAM vs State, the gender of delinquency is no longer male-oriented. The female is incarcerated for minor status-type offenses, like truancy, running away, sex illusions, or misadventures. Aftercare facilities are very limited for the institutionalized female and the chances of receiving an adequate placement after incarceration are even slimmer if she is pregnant. This phenomenon has serious implications towards the changing role of women in today’s society. During the 60’s and 70’s, the overwhelming impact of missing fathers from their homes have help develop many dysfunctional families. As a single-parent, mothers were forced to maintain their families and take on additional responsibilities by becoming the “breadwinner” of their families. However, for the past two decades, younger children are becoming victims of neglect. Children are being arrested for hanging out after hours, not attending school or being left to provide for their own welfare. I asked, Where are the mothers, today? Women who exercise the right to care, supervise, or guide their minor children? Many mothers are young adolescents and lack social and parenting skills. Institutions need to be designed to expose the young female and male to cultural family traditions, proper etiquette, good grooming, and other elements that are missing from his/her family structure. Cross-cultural family phenomenons are victimized by alcoholism, divorce,child abuse, drug abuse, incest, and poverty, just to name a few. At one time these problems were predominately limited to lower-class, uneducated families. Recently, more comprehensive and convincing data supported that family problems are unevenly wide-spread across all social classes and all educational levels.