Time magazine says the case of two juvenile judges in Pennsylvania who profited from sending children away to lockups “is all too indicative of a juvenile-justice system racked with abuses yet subject to far less scrutiny than the adult system it increasingly mirrors.” It notes the entire Texas juvenile-justice system had to be overhauled two years ago after it was discovered that kids were arbitrarily held years beyond their original sentence and that many were sexually abused. Recent studies have shown high recidivism rates from graduates of the private boot camps that were in vogue 10 years ago.
Nationwide, the system, which sends kids to a mix of large public “kiddie” prisons and smaller (but far more numerous) privately owned ones, handles more than 1.6 million juvenile cases a year; detentions have increased 44% from 1985 to 2002, the most recent year for which data are available. And that doesn’t include the number of young offenders who bypass the juvenile system altogether. Every year, some 200,000 youths are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults. Many advocates and academics argue that juveniles are not being given enough of a chance to turn their lives around after committing minor offenses. Last summer, after reviewing a large swath of research literature, the Department of Justice concluded that “to best achieve reduction in recidivism, the overall number of juvenile offenders transferred to the criminal-justice system should be minimized.”