President Obama & Juvenile Justice Reform

President Obama & Juvenile Justice Reform

During his week-long tour which culminated with the first-ever visit to a detention facility by a sitting president, Obama said he was struck by the fact that societal inequities mean that some misbehaving kids end up behind bars instead of in front of a principal’s desk.

“When they describe their youth, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made, and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made. The difference is that they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”

  • “If you are a parent, you know that there are times where boys and girls are going to act out in school. And the question is: Are we letting principals and parents deal with one set of kids and we call the police on another set of kids? That’s not the right thing to do,”  Barack Obama

 The Center for Public Integrity analyzed national education data showing that black, Latino and special needs students across the country are disproportionately referred to law enforcement agencies from their schools, mostly for minor infractions.

School To Prison Pipeline

The School-To-Prison Pipeline President Obama described has serious life-outcome implications, as highlighted by the Campaign for Youth Justice fact sheet Key Facts: Youth in the Justice System. For example, “most youth are denied educational and rehabilitative services that are necessary for their stage in development when in adult facilities. A survey of adult facilities found that 40% of jails provided no educational services at all, only 11% provided special education services, and a mere 7% provided vocational training. This lack of education increases the difficulty that youth will have once they return to their communities.”

School to Prison Pipeline Infographic
The Paths to Prison for Young African-American & Latino youth often begin with the School & Foster Care System | PBS

Equally troubling, especially in San Benito & South Santa Clara County, are the wide disparities in treatment across race & ethnicity. According to America’s Invisible Children: Latino Youth and the Failure of Justice,  “Latino youth are 4% more likely to be petitioned, 16% more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, 28% more likely to be detained, and 41% more likely to receive an out-of-home placement. The most severe disparities occur for Latino youth tried in the adult system. Latino children are 43% more likely than white youth to be waived to the adult system and 40% more likely to be admitted to adult prison.”

There are alternatives to incarcerating youth, and they work. Community-based programs, including diversion programs, drug treatment, evening reporting centers, treatment clinics and family programs, have all been shown to be less costly than detention or incarceration and to help youth stay out of trouble and to not re-offend. Youth Alliance is launching pilot Restorative Justice & Youth Empowerment programs to help explore and implement some of these effective alternatives as well as currently providing youth on probation with opportunities for employment and guidance.

It is promising to see President Obama pushing for Juvenile Justice reform as well as awareness being spread to the mainstream. Hopefully, in the coming months we will begin to see concrete pushes for less punitive and more effective alternatives to Juvenile Incarceration throughout the United states.

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