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A hypothetical Juvenile case: Rehabilitative Justice at work

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Recently a friend of my sixteen-year-old son was found rifling through my cabinets while none of us was home at the time. He was found with jewelry and a lock pick next to him, he also reeked of marijuana. The article explains what I would do and why!

The hypothetical being approached includes the following information as well as my responses and reasoning. Recently a friend of my sixteen-year-old son was found rifling through my cabinets while none of us was home at the time. He was found with jewelry and a lock pick next to him, he also reeked of marijuana. At the time I was forced to make a quick decision after telling him to leave, I chose to contact his parents and offered to sit down with them and my son to discuss this. It is my hope that we are able to offer some type of alternative to potential incarceration, a rehabilitation of some type.

There are several reasons for my having chosen this as the alternative to calling the police directly. As a future addition to the Criminal Justice world, it is my goal to work with juvenile delinquents and offer alternatives to immediate incarceration and probation. As a parent, I understand that we are not always able to monitor every second of our children's day, nor would we really want to do this in every case either. Children learn from example, as well as from the lessons they learn through life itself and its potential failures. It is important to remember that in the case of juveniles they are most likely making decisions based on the circumstances in which they are living. "Risk of that kind is, of course, difficult to determine, but research shows that the children of young, single, poor mothers are at greater risk of engaging in criminal activity than are others." (Measuring Costs and Benefits, 1996)

Offering rehabilitation in the form of family counseling is certainly a way to approach any situation; however, it is not always beneficial based on the follow-up that is received at the home from the parents, or parental figures. Many of the arguments against rehabilitation are involved with the minority who are violent offenders. In the case of my son's friend, he was non-threatening and was potentially committing what could be seen as a victim-less crime. "Brain scans show that the frontal lobes don't mature until age 25, and their connections to other parts of the brain continue to improve to at least that age." (Ritter, 2007) What can be seen in many cases is that a juvenile and crime (regardless of type) is usually a reaction to an external force and rarely a rational, thought out action. While this should not be used as an excuse for the crime itself, the juvenile offender can be placed in better perspective because of directly understanding this.

Intervention is another potential method to utilize in this case, from the proof seen it seems that the juvenile in question may have a potential addiction or problem with substances that are both illegal as well as outside the ability of a juvenile to properly process. Intervening in this particular case may be a better solution though it may not yield immediate results, by doing an intervention it is possible to open the eyes of the adults that are in a supervisory role, parents, guardians etc. According to Allen-Hagen, B. (1975.) Youth Crime Control Project:," A community-based residential treatment center for adjudicated youth used extensive group discussion as therapy and emphasized progressive assumption of self-responsibility." This was utilized as a type of rehabilitation for non-institutionalized juveniles similar to the one currently in focus. Being able to open up to others is difficult for many reason as a pre-teen or teenager however, if they are able to open up without fear of repercussion there is a good possibility that simply "talking" could rehabilitate the juvenile far quicker than any other type of punishment or approach. In some studies there has been shown a much lower recidivism than normal incarceration and alternative punishments.

Another form of rehabilitation is the use of reparations otherwise known as restorative justice. Restorative justice focuses on the individuals and property or communities involved. It demands that one accept personal responsibility for their actions and than punishment is handed out based on that and the intensity of the crime itself on an individual / community basis. While this type of justice may not be effective in with all types of crime there is the real possibility that it will be effective for lesser crimes such as the one currently being used for this paper. Utilized properly restorative justice has the potential to induce a societal understanding that we must all be personally responsible for our actions and that no one and nothing can be blamed for our personal actions. Per Martin and Dapena, (2002) and over 10 years of experience and studies, the following conclusion can be drawn, "All parties benefit from mediation processes: justice is perceived as faster and gains an improved social image. Mediation constitutes a good way to hold young people accountable for their actions. Victims feel taken care of and listened to, and are able to experience their requests being taken into consideration."

Alternatives do exist to direct incarceration and the involvement of the system, while the types of rehabilitative alternatives are meant for large use by Justice Systems they are also very easily manipulated to fit the one on one, family, community scene and further reduce the need for additional Justice System involvement. Obviously, there is the possibility that the parents themselves will not wish to participate in which there remains the alternative for law enforcement intervention. It is important to attempt to avoid this in the author's opinion, simply because it is not always necessary and should be a last resort. Many times something like this can be resolved with a simple telephone call and a few minutes of conversation as well as a little more over watch and less leniency concerning the juvenile offender.

In the event, the parents refused to participate in the various methods of rehabilitation. Instead automatically began protecting their child, it may become necessary to involve law enforcement. If this becomes necessary, there are still ways to approach it in which the best for the child and its potential rehabilitation over incarceration are realized. It may be possible to petition the court to use constructive means of punishment and in fact force the parents to accede to the tenants of rehabilitation versus incarceration. It should be realized as a parent that your children's actions regardless of ignorance if these actions are still the direct responsibility of the parent. Obviously, this is not always the case, however, it should be understood that even though a parent should be responsible for a child (under the age of accountability) actions these same actions should not be excused due to age. Responsibility must be accepted and there is no better time to begin doing so. Other governments are trying it with success, is it not time for us as well, "Since a new penal law about juvenile deviance was enforced in 1988, decarceration and significant decreases in daily counts of youth incarceration have been notable trends." (Scalia, 2005)

In conclusion, we have seen various methods of reaching the same goal which in the end results in the ability to prevent yet another juvenile from being placed in the system. By calling the parents and offering various alternatives there is the real possibility that this "problem" of the moment will remain exactly that and not become something far larger. While my initial response based in emotions is one of anger, after taking a moment to regain control of my emotions it is easy to see the logic in offering preventative measures versus incarceration or other means of punishment. Allowing the juvenile in question to "own up" to their actions and take full responsibility will also allow them to learn from their initial mistakes. I would therefore make their parents aware of what occurred as well as offering secondary methods of future prevention.

Reference page:

Allen-Hagen, B. (1975.) Youth Crime Control Project:

A Final Report on an Experimental Alternative to Incarceration of Young Adult Offenders. Research Report No. 75""1. Washington, DC: Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections

Martin and Dapena, Jaime and Jose (2002).

Mediation and Reparation. Mediation in Juvenile Criminal Cases - the Case of Catalonia, from

Measuring Costs and Benefits, (1996, May).

Diverting Children from a Life of Crime: RAND Research Brief, from click here

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Jesse Mathewson is currently a writer, stay at home father, full time student, and political campaign volunteer coordinator. His hobbies include writing, shooting, teaching, and history (religious and United States history.)His resume includes (more...)
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