Juvenile Justice Reform: Dispatches from Juvenile Hall

by Linda Wagner

juvenile-justice-reform-dispatches-from-juvenile-hall-coverHeated discussions arise over the societal factors that lead to juvenile criminality and the ways that public institutions fail to curtail them. A team of experts with decades of collective hands-on experience presents a book that cuts through the hype and paranoia to offer real solutions. Dispatches from Juvenile Hall – Fixing a Failing System, cuts through the war between “soft on crime” and “tough on crime” to deliver an alternative that is “smart on crime” – a progressive approach, based on the latest findings that incorporate corrections responses, treatment, and family-focused interventions.

The book outlines a blueprint that leads to safer communities and efficient use of the public funds that pay for the juvenile justice system. This blueprint is based on validated research, but perhaps the most compelling reason to be “smart on crime” is not the science behind the approach, but rather the people whose lives it touches. Their stories are presented throughout this book. Here are words from a few of them …
Rachael: “My mom married my stepfather when I was only four and everything changed…he was a really heavy alcoholic…he was very abusive to me…It was so difficult as a child growing up in that … there was a lot of sexual abuse going on.. there was forced sexual abuse between me and my brother…They put me in the shelter and I loved being there but it also had delinquent kids and I was living with people who had drug problems, so I learned about smoking pot and taking acid from them…”
Arturo: “My dad and my uncle are heroin addicts… I was twelve when I got busted on my first burglary… I started selling weed, and then meth, and then I graduated to heroin…”
Jasmine: “I used drugs when I was eleven years old and I had a crush on a nineteen-year old boy. I smoked meth with him and he took advantage of me…”
Alan: “What I did in a split second can change your life forever. I’ve spent my whole life searching for a family, and I went and took someone away from theirs. I caused the same pain that I’ve been running from all of my life…”
As bad as these stories are, the nation’s response has been little better, relying on methods of punishment that often make the problem worse. Effective delinquency reduction strategies target risk areas that place juveniles in increased jeopardy of delinquency, such as alcohol and drug problems, poor family management, school issues, negative peers, antisocial thinking and behaviors, etc.
This book looks at the problem of delinquency through the words of offenders and people who work in the system. It outlines what does and does not work to reduce delinquency. Finally, it describes the cost-efficient methods that effectively reduce juvenile crime – reminding us that there is more hope for these young offenders than there are reasons to fear them.
Linda Wagner has worked as the research and development coordinator at the Lane County Department of Youth Services for many years, evaluating the impact of juvenile justice policy and system reform. She is also the co-author of Dispatches from Juvenile Hall: Fixing a Failed System.

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