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Juvenile Justice Studies Show Promising Results, Highlight Problems

| July 11, 2011

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a division of the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, has been working for several years to improve juvenile justice across the nation.  Last week, The Federal Probation Journal released a number of their studies and reports on initiatives that OJJDP has sponsored.  The results are promising, but several studies do indicate that problems in the education system are quickly becoming a massive burden on society.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently published an extensive report concerning the high school dropout rate, which is strongly linked to juvenile and adult crime.  As of 2008 (the last year of the 36-year study), 3 million 16-24 year-olds were either not enrolled in high school, or did not hold a high school degree or alternative credential.  The consequences of this high dropout rate are severe.

A report by Texas Appleseed indicates that one in three juveniles sent to the Texas Youth Commission are high school dropouts, and more than 80% of incarcerated persons in Texas state prisons are high school dropouts.  Furthermore, the report shows a sharp increase in dropout rate with the implementation of alternative education programs (five times more than standard schools).

In more promising news, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood program last fall, which aims to prevent children’s exposure to violence, lessen the negative impacts of exposure to violence, and develop awareness about the issue.  There are presently eight demonstration sites in the nation that are strategizing and building local partnerships to determine the best plan to prevent violence exposure.

Gang Reduction is another priority issue for OJJDP, which led to the construction of the Gang Reduction Program (GRP).  The GRP is a broad initiative aimed at reducing youth gang violence and crime in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Richmond, and Miami through community outreach and intervention.  An independent evaluation of the program was recently published with encouraging results.  The data shows that three of the four cities saw a noticeable positive change in youth crime and youth gang violence.

OJJDP has also performed extensive research on the link between adolescent substance abuse and adult crime.  The data clearly indicates that substance use and offending at a young age is a consistent predictor of serious offending at a later age.  Furthermore, OJJDP found that substance use and criminal behavior tend to show a decrease in late adolescence, which they identify as an optimal time for behavioral intervention.  OJJDP hypothesizes that drug use alone is not the door to a life of crime, but rather that drugs are typically associated with the criminal element of society, and drug use forces children to associate with that portion of society.

Lastly, OJJDP released some brief statistics on the negative effects of incarcerated parents on juveniles (the full study has not been published yet).  53% of incarcerated persons in the United States left children at home.  These children are 300% more likely to engage in antisocial or delinquent behavior.

The preliminary results from these programs are promising, but several of the failures are discouraging.  The school-to-prison pipeline is indicative of a trend of overcriminalization throughout society.  Schoolhouse discipline should instead focus on correcting behavioral problems through rehabilitation, not throwing problem children together in an alternative school where criminal activity and societal resentment amy breed.


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