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Juvenile Justice_Haskins

Juvenile Justice_Haskins - p o LicY br ief faLL 2008...

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LAURENCE STEINBERG AND RON HASKINS | KEEPING ADOLESCENTS OUT OF PRISON 1 Keeping Adolescents Out of Prison Laurence Steinberg and Ron Haskins POLICY BRIEF FALL 2008 Anthony Laster was a fifteen-year-old with an IQ of less than 60. A few days after his mother died unex- pectedly, Anthony tried to get one of his classmates to give him lunch money. When the boy refused, Anthony took $2 out of the boy’s pocket. The county prosecutor found this action to be a criminal offense and decided to prosecute Anthony as an adult even though he had never been arrested before. As a result of the prosecutor’s decision, Anthony spent seven weeks in jail, much of that time in an adult facility. Except for his IQ in the retarded range, Anthony’s case is not unusual. On a typical day, 69,000 youths are detained in correctional facilities, many along with adult criminals. Another 26,000 youngsters are confined awaiting adjudication or pending placement in such facilities. The best estimate is that around 45 percent of these young people have committed status offenses (acts, such as alcohol consumption, that are legal for adults but illegal for underage youth), proba- tion violations, misdemeanors, or low-level felonies. An equally striking fact about this system of arrests and prosecutions is that minorities, especially blacks, are disproportionately overrepresented among these confined youths. The current system is thus worri- some for two reasons: it not only exposes adolescents to the dangers of placement in facilities with adult criminals but also seems on its face to be stacked against ethnic minorities. A BOUT THE AUTHORS : Laurence Steinberg is the Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University. Ron Haskins is a senior editor of The Future of Children , senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, and a senior consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. To read the full report on juvenile justice, edited by Laurence Steinberg, go to www.futureof children.org. Both widely accepted legal principles and research on adolescent immaturity argue that juveniles are less responsible for their criminal behavior than adults and should there- fore receive less severe punishment. Research shows that harsh punishment in adult facilities increases the probability of future violent crimes and that most youngsters who commit criminal offenses will abandon illegal behavior as they enter adulthood. Scien- tific evaluations of prevention and treatment programs for youth that provide systematic treatment in community and family settings show that these programs significantly re- duce future criminal behavior without the need for harsh sanctions. States should adapt their laws on juvenile crime to emphasize evidence-based treatment and to avoid harsh punishment for all but repeat violent offenders.
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2 THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN In this policy brief, we draw on articles in a recently released volume of The Future of Children devoted
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