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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Juveniles and a Lifetime of Justice

Approximately 2 million juveniles are arrested each year. From its beginnings, the juvenile justice system held that youth should be spared from the stigma of involvement with the adult criminal justice system and should not be branded as “criminals.” The belief was that juveniles should be handled with care in a non-adversarial, highly confidential manner.

With significant increases in crime, genuine community fears of public safety, and the rise in the victims' rights movement, the public demands increased public accountability from juvenile offenders. Many citizens believe tougher juvenile punishments will deter potential offenders and hold young people accountable for their actions.

Who is being held more and more accountable? Research shows that many delinquent youth are developmentally behind their peers, and are more likely to have learning disabilities. More than half of youth in detention have not completed the eighth grade. Some estimates place the percentage of youth involved in the juvenile justice system who have learning disabilities as high as 70 percent. Studies show that juvenile delinquency is correlated with learning disabilities, but insufficient attention is paid to the additional challenges youth with learning disabilities face upon reentry. Two-thirds of youth who leave formal custody do not return to school. (Richard Hooks Wayman and Ashley Nellis, Back on Track: Supporting Youth Reentry from Out-of-Home Placement to the Community, The Youth Reentry Task Force of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, 2009)

Although youth crime rates have dropped steadily since the 1990s, rates of incarcerating youth have increased. According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the number of youth held in pre-trial detention has increased 72% since the early 1990s. Over 200,000 youth under 18 are removed from the juvenile justice system and tried as adults each year. It comes as no surprise that youth are faced with a higher risk of assault, abuse, and death in the adult court system.

According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, 15 states allow prosecutors the discretion to have a youth’s case tried in the adult criminal court, 15 states require juvenile court judges to automatically transfer a youth’s case to adult criminal court for certain offenses or because of the age or prior record of the offender, and 29 states automatically require a youth’s case to be tried in the adult court based on the age of the youth or the alleged crime or both. (Campaign For Youth Justice, Factsheet: Trying Youth As Adults,

Research analyst Ashley Nellis, says this:

Today, sharing of sensitive information about adjudicated juveniles has become more common, and rules surrounding youth privacy and confidentiality have been promoted under the rationale of public safety. Records of delinquency are often accessible to potential employers and educational institutions, even if they have been officially expunged. Agencies enter into agreements to share delinquency data, school data, and family data freely. While information sharing is a useful tool to track youth across systems, the lack of discretion with which sensitive information is shared often outweighs any benefits.”

(Ashley Nellis Ph. D., “Addressing the Collateral Consequences of Convictions for Young Offenders,” Reclaiming Futures, Portland State University, August 29 2011)

How can juveniles return to life after arrest with minimal scars of serious damage? Despite efforts among advocates, practitioners, law enforcement, and policymakers to strengthen reentry support, young people face system-imposed obstacles to success based on a delinquent or a criminal record.

Beginning at the first point of contact with the justice system, what are the collateral consequences juveniles could face, regardless of whether charges are subsequently applied and the individual is convicted? They may face the following challenges:

1. Gaining Employment

2. Becoming Involved With Civic Participation

3. Finding Housing

4. Applying To College and Receiving College Loans

5. Accessing Medical and Mental Health Care

6. Causing Placement on Public Registries (such as sex offender registries)

7. Paying Child Support

8. Entering the Armed Services

9. Facing Restrictions in Employment (Childcare, Security, Education, Direct Patient Care)

10. Climbing a Career Ladder

My Bottom Line

Juveniles must, more than ever before, consider the tremendous risks associated with being arrested. A young person can make one bad decision that can alter his or her entire life. One criminal behavior involving many youth in Ohio involves the use of illicit drugs. Juveniles must think about the penalties they may suffer by engaging in drug abuse.

Far from being petty forfeitures, the problems caused by drug crimes affect every part of a juvenile's life. For the sake of a bright future, young people must adopt a new, informed interpretation of drug abuse. Too many say now, “It's no big deal.” However, after arrest, few will escape without some very deep scars and regret their grievous mistakes.

And, young folks, you are just too good for that.

In Ohio it was estimated on a survey-weighted hierarchical Bayes estimation approach that the total number of illicit drug users in a one month period was 756,000. For this estimation illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or any prescription-type psychotherapeutic used nonmedically.
    • An estimated 112,000 of the illicit drug users in Ohio were between the ages of 12-17 years old.
    • An estimated 254,000 of the illicit drug users in Ohio were between the ages of 18-25 years old.
    • An estimated 389,000 of the illicit drug users in Ohio were 26 or older.


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