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I have observed that relevant community service has been largely effective, but the key is relevance. The difficulty for the judge in these cases is to take the time to come up with a community service requirement that is both relevant and meaningful to the student. As Gilbert and Sullivan once wrote, "Let the punishment fit the crime..."
I know that the juvenile justice system doesn't seem to have found a way to turn the lives of these young people around. Punishment does not seem to matter if the root of the problem (what caused the behavior requiring punishment) is not addressed. If it is not addressed early, many of these people will struggle into adulthood, quite possibly making the same mistakes.
I am concerned, too, about how the rights of parents are limited—at least in Pennsylvania. If a young person is in need of counseling or commitment into some kind of rehab. center, parents are not permitted to make him/her go. If that young person agrees to enter a facility, he/she can sign him- or herself out when it is desirable. However, the parents are still legal liable for whatever the underage son or daughter does. So parents cannot require their child go to rehab, but must pay fines, etc., for any damage the youngster may do.
This system ties the hands of the parents, and allows the young person to believe that there are no consequences of any merit...for their records can expunged prior to 18. After 18, there are permanent consequences that I do not believe the court system takes into account.
The juvenile justice system has been rather ineffective. Young people who are incarcerated are rarely treated for the psychological dysfunctions that led to their incarceration in the first place. They are generally not offered appropriate educational and remedial opportunities, so when they emerge from jail they are ill-equipped to earn an honest living.
It is very hard to argue that our juvenile justice system has been effective in any way. It has not managed to reduce juvenile delinquency. It has not managed to figure out good ways to help kids who need help. Basically, it is very difficult for a juvenile justice system to fix problems that go as deep as those that many delinquent kids face.
The juvenile justice system has been effective at separating children from adults in judging crimes and making sure that juvenile records are sealed. Thus a young person who makes a mistake by accident won't be haunted by a record. On the other hand, the system has been less effective at preventing juvenile crime and rehabilitating juvenile offenders. It is also overloaded with cases and does not address the root causes of juvenile crime which may include inequality, poverty, lack of after school and community care, and prevalence of drugs and gangs in certain neighborhoods.
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