More to the offender than the offense.
While I full-heartedly agree with this idea (as I’m sure many of you do as well), it’s definitely not something that is readily practiced in our juvenile justice system. Our society is far too consumed with punishment and blame to take the time to understand the root causes of offenses committed by young people. While it may be difficult to imagine a world where forgiveness and understanding conquer the desire for retribution in the courtroom, take a look at this article and be inspired by the wisdom of one victim and her recognition of the victim status of the boy who harmed her.
Trouble in school and family issues, including neglect and abuse, are a couple of the biggest risk factors associated with juvenile crime. California spends about $3,000 below the national average for education per student and ranks close to the bottom of all the states at number forty-seven. A recent national study showed that over sixty percent of the kids surveyed were exposed to violence within the last year.
Many young people who commit crimes do not have access to adequate education and are simply emulating the violent behavior they have become accustomed to. In fact, for every $15,000 we invest in the early years of disadvantaged youths’ lives we save $80,000 in crime-related costs later on. With this knowledge, why are we waiting to take action until young people commit crimes? Why aren’t we stepping in earlier to protect them from the violence they are experiencing and to provide them with a meaningful education? Why don’t we break the cycle of violence instead of just perpetuating it with more negative reinforcement in the form of incarceration?
Numerous studies show kids are different from adults with their higher capacity for reform. Youth are also less culpable for their actions because even teenagers, who may have comparable intellectual development to adults, lack social maturity which makes them impulsive, susceptible to peer pressure, and more concerned with the rewards of a crime than with its risks. Last month the United States Supreme Court decided laws that provide mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles are unconstitutional, but kids can still be subjected to this harsh sentence as long as the court has discretion. Watch this video to learn more and to see how family members of victims recognize the humanity of youthful offenders.
We know kids are different, yet we insist on holding them to the same standards as adults. This issue is not going to go away overnight. More than an overhaul of the entire juvenile justice system we all need to rethink our attitudes about youth who commit crimes. They themselves are often victims as well. Here are just a few ways you can take action today:
- Make a point to interact more with kids in your neighborhood, listen to what makes them happy as well as their concerns, and let them know you care about them.
- Become a mentor or volunteer with a local organization that looks out for the interests of youth. Find one that appeals to you here: http://www.volunteermatch.org
- Talk to friends and family about our broken juvenile justice system. Raise awareness so more people are impassioned to take action in their everyday encounters with young people as well as when it’s time to vote for an increase in educational programs and youth services and a decrease in “lock ‘em up” policies.