Juvenile Detention Centers Criticism Sparks Debate

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Paxton Scott, News Editor

In the United States, an average of 600,000 youths are cycled through juvenile detention systems every year. Approximately 336 in 100,000 young adults under the age of 21 are currently incarcerated,  giving the U.S. the highest rate of juvenile incarceration in the world. South Africa comes in a distant second, confining only 69 per 100,000 juveniles.

Locally, DeNier Youth Services is a secure holding facility with a variety of rehabilitation programs.

“We are a commitment detention facility for youths ages 10 to 21. Kids break the law and do either a year or two years with us” said Karen Murie, the director of DeNeir Youth Services.

DeNier is state-funded, but privately owned. The facility includes year-round education and specialized treatment groups that focuses on individuals.

“They have an incredible program up there, it’s all about rehabilitation and restorative justice,” said Rachel Colsman, a Social Studies teacher at DHS and summertime teacher at DeNier.

Despite Colsman’s complementary words, she also sees the harsh reality of holding young adults in confinement.

“When you go in there, you’re behind four control operated locked doors. The only time they’re allowed out of their pod is when they are in school or participating in coach directed activities. There is no personal, private time other than when they go to bed,” said Colsman.

Is around the clock surveillance and a scheduled lifestyle the best way for our society to help troubled teens move forward?

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice published a report on the need for alternatives to secure detention and confinement. The report cited crowding and the unproven effectiveness of confinement as the rationale for developing a feasible alternative.

On a local level, DeNier experiences the lack of effectiveness of a detention center every time a young adult is brought back into confinement as a result of a new crime.

“More than half (of the committed juveniles) are in here for the second time,” said Murie.

The national average for repeat offenders is 66% demonstrating that DeNier is not alone in experiencing high return rates.

Despite having a well funded program and opportunities for community service, many juveniles return year after year to DeNeir.

“The downside to the juvenile justice system, and I’ve said this for a long time, is that we give them all the tools and then release them back into the situation that got them there in the first place,” said Colsman.

DeNier has some great programs, but once young adults are released they often fall back into the same pits and ruts that brought them to DeNier originally.

“They just commit different crimes, worse crimes, more crimes, or they are parole violators,” said Murie, speaking about why young adults were brought back into DeNier.

The young adults that are confined in DeNier and other juvenile detention facilities are not bad people, simply products of unhealthy upbringings and rough circumstances.

Although no system is perfect, creating a program where youth detainees are not returned to the situation that got them into detentions facilities in the first place, would be a step in the right direction.

Sidebar:

“I would be very depressed if I was incarcerated for a long period of time because I wouldn’t be able to watch football or drive,”  – Jr. Andy Forman.

“Kids are kids, they made some bad decisions for a variety of reasons,”- Rachel Colsman