Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Juvenile Delinquents: Possibility of Reform?

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that juveniles who commit crimes in which no one is killed may not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. This does not mean the state must guarantee the offender a release, but must merely leave it a possibility.

When I read about the court case and the reasons behind the majority decision, it occurred to me that there was hardly any mention of the notion of “Rehabilitation”. One of the major goals of the United States Prison System is “Rehabilitation”. In fact, in many instances experts and community planners debate over whether prison is for Rehabilitation or more so for Retribution, punishment for what that criminal has done. In making such a decision though, that “Youth” offenders whose crimes have not resulted in anyone’s death must have the chance of parole, the Court must believe that there is at least some possibility of rehabilitating youthful offenders so that they may be released from prison some day. Moreover, the Court in making such a decision, separated juvenile’s as a class, meaning that the court must believe that juveniles have a greater chance of rehabilitation than adult criminals.

After representing juveniles who have committed a slew of crimes, I would still love to believe that in fact most crimes committed by children are committed out of youthful ignorance or due to immaturity, just stupid childhood mistakes that the youth will look back on later in life and laugh at, but I have come to realize this is not the case. You realize this is not true when representing a 12 year old on his third weapons charge, or a 10 year old on his second or third assault. These repeat offenders in and out of juvenile placement facilities for most of their youth, because the community is trying so hard to rehabilitate them.

The recidivism rate, the rate of reoccurring criminal behavior, for youthful offenders is extremely high, maybe because of the youth’s circumstances such as poverty, low level education, drugs and alcohol abuse in the home, lack of supervision, etc. However, these are the same circumstances of adults so what makes the court believe a child is more capable of Rehabilitation?

I represent juvenile delinquents because I believe that youth should have a “chance” for rehabilitation and that such change is possible. So, in essence I agree with the Court’s ruling, believing that if you take the child out of their circumstances there is a still a chance to mold them into a different person, with different morals and ideals. However, I hope that more resources are put in place for these youth and that the system provides more supervision over those that are paroled so that the community is safe from repeat offenders, realizing that hopes and reality are sometimes very different.

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