More often than not, the decisions adults make are heavily influenced by their childhood and how they were mentored during it. Additionally, the reactions of the adults around them to their choices can help shape who they will be in adulthood. The difference between adults who commit crimes and children who commit crimes is that children are still in a place in their lives where their experiences are shaping how they will behave within a society. Children and adolescents are still experiencing this section of their lives, which is a time for learning, nurture, and guidance. It’s not a time to be taught that you’re a lost cause and tossed in a detention center. Even though consequences are inevitable and critical in teaching lessons on how to behave and carry oneself, there are healthier and more impactful ways of implementing consequences when young people have begun to commit crimes.
According to Dr. Mick Creati, as told to the Human Rights Law Centre, “children under 14 years have relatively immature brain development when it comes to decision-making, organization, impulse control and planning for their future. We shouldn’t criminalize actions that may be developmentally normal for children of this age and they should not be incarcerated as a consequence.” There are even areas in our country that are placing children with adults in jails. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2021, 85% of youth were held as adults in local jails. Children who are placed in prisons are being traumatized when they should be receiving rehabilitation and education. Jail is not the answer for mistakes made during childhood.
Alternatives to Prison for Youth
Therapy and Education
Oftentimes, youth who are found to be committing crimes and getting themselves into trouble are making these decisions based on their trauma and have a desire to be nurtured and guided. According to The Juvenile Law Center, “many youth prisons are called ‘schools,’ but few of these facilities provide either quality education services or mental health care or other services children need to heal.” Prisons for children make less of an impact than education and healing does. What youth who commit crimes need is professional help and a quality education to steer them in the right direction and help them heal from what encouraged them to make poor choices.
Youth who do not have guidance can only make decisions based on their own established views, which could be influenced by negative sources. Having a mentor can steer youth who exhibit troublesome behavior on a healthier path that can lead to an enriched, positive lifestyle filled with support from people who want to see them succeed. When someone on the outside begins to root for you, you start to root for yourself. When you start to care about where your life is headed, you begin to make choices that reflect that.
According to the Bridge Teen Center, “through their [community] service, students are given the opportunity to work with a variety of diverse people. This helps them develop a sense of social awareness. They learn patience and empathy while getting to see first-hand how they can have a positive impact on their local community.” There’s also a big difference between volunteering to do community service and being “sentenced” to do it. Community service as a consequence turns something that a young person may not be excited to do into an enriching experience that could teach them valuable lessons in life and behavior.
Prevention and Support
An impactful avenue of helping youth avoid getting caught up in the undertow of the juvenile justice system is to work towards its prevention and to provide support to those already working towards abolishing and improving what already exists.
Encourage the Pursuit of Healthier Activities
Encouraging youth who seem to lean towards crime and troubling activities to participate in healthier and positive pastimes could be an effective way to steer them in the right direction. From the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to church groups and extracurricular activities offered at their schools, there are many ways to get youth involved in positive activities that will inevitably take up any time they would have to commit crimes and get themselves into trouble.
TeamChild has programs that aim to have a positive effect on youth impacted by the juvenile justice system. They strive to help youth gain the necessities to survive and to be treated fairly and in a way that promotes a healthy lifestyle going forward. From training and consulting to legal services and policy advocacy, there are ample ways for the general public to become involved with this organization and make a change for the youth that need it the most.
No Kids In Prison
No Kids In Prison aims to end youth incarceration by protesting for the closure and end of new construction of youth prisons. No Kids In Prison has ample opportunities for the general public, regardless of existing experience or expertise, to become involved in the dedication to nurturing youth impacted by the juvenile justice system rather than causing further trauma for them. From starting or joining a campaign in your area to hosting a film screening of short films and documentaries that educate and inspire the community, this organization has opportunities for folks to take action and join the movement against youth prisons.
Children don’t belong in jail. A person whose brain is not yet fully developed does not belong in a detention center. They need lessons and consequences that don’t traumatize them, but rather encourages them and shows them grace. As a community, it’s our responsibility to advocate for those who aren’t able or equipped to advocate for themselves, and youth impacted by the juvenile justice system should be at the top of that list.