Saturday, December 01, 2007

States Rethinking Harsh Juvenile Crime Laws

One size fits all justice never works. States that in the past enacted tough laws charging juveniles as adults and in many cases throwing them in prison for life without a key are now rethinking these laws.

They're responding to new research on the adolescent brain, and studies that indicate teens sent to adult court end up worse off than those who are not: They get in trouble more often, they do it faster and the offenses are more serious.

"It's really the trifecta of bad criminal justice policy," says Shay Bilchik, a former Florida prosecutor who heads the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. "People didn't know that at the time the changes were made. Now we do, and we have to learn from it."

States considering changes: Colorado, Connecticut, California, Michigan, Illinois. The article is filled with details.

America can't jail itself out of its juvenile crime problem. We can't keep putting law enforcement and punishment over prevention.

The expertise of the family court and the juvenile court system serves a vital function in our society. As I wrote back in 1998 when Congress was considering some ill-advised juvenile crime legislation:

The value of prevention over the pure "lock-em-up" mentality was shown by a Rand Corporation projection: While a $1 million investment in new prisons would prevent 60 serious crimes a year, the same $1 million, if invested in parent training, could prevent 160 serious crimes a year. And if the same amount were spent on graduation incentives for disadvantaged students, there might be 258 fewer serious crimes a year.

It's time to get smarter, not tougher about crime.

By Jeralyn TALK LEFT posted Saturday December 1, 2007

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