Many California officials are opting to treat delinquent youths in their home communities rather than state institutions at a time when juvenile and imprisonment rates have been plummeting for a decade, says the San Francisco Chronicle. There were 65 California juveniles imprisoned in 2006 for every 100,000 in the state’s youth population, down from a peak of 285 in 1988, while the juvenile arrest rate for serious felonies has fallen by more than half. California’s state-run juvenile prisons continue to be plagued by violence and poor rehabilitation efforts, but counties have seized on new methods and accelerated the introduction of models that appear to be successful at reducing recidivism rates.
Treatment methods are more pragmatic than in the past and focus on retraining rather than punishment. Said Barry Krisberg of Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency: “What we’re seeing is the exact reverse of the old argument that said the only thing that works is incapacitating these juveniles. The crime rates are falling as we got less tough, not tougher.” The core of the new approach is that juveniles with the potential for becoming lifelong criminals can be identified early with careful screening. These youths can be treated with programs that focus not on their often troubled backgrounds but on practical efforts to break behavior patterns and make better choices. This is known as behavioral, or cognitive therapy. “Talk therapy doesn’t work in changing behavior,” said criminologist Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati. “You have to target current issues in the juvenile’s life, not things that happened in the past, even if they affected the juvenile’s psychology in some way.”