Isolation of Youth and the Effects of Sub-par Juvenile Detention Centers

Tyler: Many times in today’s society with children in broken homes, they become institutionally isolated. They are lacking in formal control from their absent parents as well as social control by not attending school or participating in any social institutions. In some cases, like the Newtown shooting, this isolated behavior can be deadly. “‘Teenagers and young adults typically are involved in sports, clubs, jobs, community activities and have friends,’ Vos Winkel said. ‘I think at least from what we’re gleaning at this point there was very little of that,’ Vos Winkel said.'” Often in these cases, it may not even be the young offenders fault, as many young serious offenders suffer from mental health disorders. Only about one third of the juvenile offenders that need mental health treatment receive it. The juvenile justice system is setting theses young members of society up to fail when they are released because they are not receiving the proper treatment. Without the proper treatment, these kids are just being thrust back into society with nothing but poor memories of the law enforcement officials that treated them poorly. I believe that this would be a cause for the young criminals to become repeat offenders. They have seen corrupt law enforcement officers and have no faith in the system.


Will: In some cases, these problems could be solved well before any adolescent resorts to desperate actions, but society just brushes off precursors to this behavior as “acting out”. There are even cases when normal children feel driven to such measures based on abuse from parents, or other authority figures. Jeffrey Dingman was granted parole in the case of the 1996 murder of his parents. He was assisted by his older brother, Robert, and was 14 when the incidence occurred. His parents were abusive toward both of their sons, creating a hostile living environment for their children. This does not necessarily exempt either Jeffrey or Robert from the actions they took, but it is obvious that they should never have been driven to such an act by the parents who were supposed to be raising good young men. At very least, his age and the fact that he was a minor and acted because of a perceived threat from his parents should have provoked officials to place him in some sort of a rehabilitation facility.

Tyler: However, these rehabilitation facilitates or juvenile detention centers are often subpar. In this article in the New York Times, Sentenced to Abuse, it goes into detail talking about the abuse that the juvenile inmates have to go through. They are sexually assaulted and harassed, mainly by the staff. These children are just that, children. They may be criminals, but they do not deserve to be taken advantage of and abused by those who are supposed to be reforming them. USA Today found that 12% of juvenile inmates are sexually taken advantage of in detention centers, mainly female guards that take advantage of underage boys. When the detention centers that are supposed to rehabilitate these young offenders are offering them noting but sexual assault, it become monumentally harder for these children to return to society and they become re-offenders. Studies have shown that lumping troubled kids with other troubled kids will worsen their behavior problems. With worsened behavior problems, it is more likely that the child or young adult will become a repeat offender. These children are not being taught how to become productive members of society, they are being taught how to continue to offend and become a part of the system.


Will: As previously mentioned though, these children need some type of social contact with peers and those in authority positions to function well in society. The problem with the current facilities then becomes the type of social interaction, not necessarily its presence or absence. They need a more positive environment to undergo changes, and being around abuse and harassment is definitely counterproductive. The guards and rehabilitation officers in juvenile containment should be upstanding citizens that provide good moral ground for the youth to derive conscience from. Many of these young people, around 4.7% according to The U.S. Department of Justice in an article by Matthew Fleischer, actually consent to sexual acts with the adults, a sign of additional cries for help. Joaquin Sapien also states that they researchers cited in his article have found that sexual abuse in juvenile facilities happens with three times the frequency of adult facilities. This is most likely because of the unfinished development of the youth, because they would be less likely to handle the situation in a legal manner. The children who need to be reformed are in fact even more repressed in such environments. The “correction” is doing the exact opposite of what it should.


Matt: The Chicago Tribune wrote an article that talked about a revolving door between correctional facilities and communities.  Many kids are coming through these places and learning nothing. They will not be able to return to society and be able to act normal. With the little help that they might receive they don’t learn enough to be placed back into society. One detention center in Texas is working on reforming.  The Texas correction facility is working on keeping young people who are criminals closer to home when they are placed in jail. The county in Texas is also doing a good job of keeping younger offender out of the detention centers.


Tyler: Recently in Cleveland, Ohio, several people, including staff and inmates, have been injured in juvenile detention centers. These centers are short staffed, especially late at night. With fewer guards, the inmate may be more likely to cause a disturbance. However, these guards “lack regular tactical training and adequate radio equipment to call for backup in an emergency” said Joe James, the representative for detention officers in Cleveland, Ohio. I believe that if correctional facilities could better train their officers, we would not have so many young criminals becoming repeat offenders. I also believe that if the correctional facilities could do a better job of keeping closer eyes on the guards that are supposed to be protecting and educating these young offenders, we would not have so many problems with those inmates getting sexually assaulted.  Again, it comes back to the children or young adults being taken advantage of and they feel as if the system is taking advantage of them, which in some cases is literally true.


Will: I feel that an additional preventative measure for such cases would be putting greater emphasis on the education of these guards and other employees. says that in many cases, such rehabilitation centers only require a high school diploma for employment, although college degrees are held in high esteem, and courses that last several weeks are offered for training. The mandated requirement of more specialized education to begin such a career would foreseeably reduce the amount of abuse cases. To put it bluntly, one would have to jump through more hoops to get a job, and they would truly have to have an invested interest in the rehabilitation of youth.


Matt: I would agree with Will, many of the guards are not very educated. Even in a recent article from 2013, a 14 year old was “repeatedly sexually assaulted” by a guard in a Louisiana juvenile correctional facility. Clearly this is happening all over the country and it needs to be stopped. It’s possible that the guards that are being hired could have problems that lead them to assault the kids that they are supposed to be teaching to be new members of society. If the detention centers can’t find more educated people to become correctional officers then they need to teach the people that they hire more things to prevent sexual assaults and try to help the kids that are in these facilities not to become repeat offenders.


Tyler: I agree with Matt and Will. However, I believe that there needs to be more outside of the facilities to keep these young offenders off the street. In a 2003 article, the author discussed several possibilities that could keep at-risk youth off the street. In very diverse areas with low-income households and single parents it is often hard for guardians to keep up with their kids when they are working two or three jobs at a time, earning minimum wage and trying to keep bread on the table. The article discusses having many after school programs, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, after school sports or activities such as leaning a hobby like photography. However, it could be potentially hard to get at-risk youth to participate in these programs if they have already become offenders. It would be easier to retain children if they started in these programs at a younger age. If these kids can become involved at younger ages they will develop a deeper connection to that hobby and may not want to give it up for a life of criminal behavior.


Will: Much of this risky behavior that kids are participating in has to do with the friends they choose. During the early years of a child’s development, they are less personally responsible for the social choices they make, because they aren’t quite mature enough yet. As they grow older, sociability becomes more of an independent decision. Consequently, it becomes the parent’s responsibility to nurture their children at an early age, and teach them the difference between helpful and hindering friends and situations, so that they can go on to lead healthy adult lives. Nancy Samalin, a parenting speaker, has several tips to point children in the right direction.  Essentially, the parents should make sure their child isn’t doing things or hanging out with people for popularity’s sake, and should only intervene if they feel it is truly necessary. Pleasing other people can play an extremely large part in bad behavior in teens, and it causes them to live for others, not themselves.


Matt: I agree with Will. The parents should be more responsible with the kids, especially at an early age when they are hanging out with bad influences after school or staying out late with these bad friends. Not only do friends have negative influences on other friends but the celebrities have a terrible influence on today’s youth. Those in the spot light like Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears and recently Miley Cyrus who have done whatever they have wanted in the public spotlight probably don’t realize that they are influencing these at-risk kids. Many of these kids are more likely to pay attention and watch there stars on television than listen to the advice that the parents give them because the kids want to be cool just like the celebrities.


Will: Popular culture definitely has a lot to do with risky behavior by kids, especially because they are so mentally susceptible to it. The Centre for Adolescent Health collaborated with the Raising Children Network. In the published article, they state that the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making is not fully developed until the mid-20s. This is becoming quite a popularly cited fact lately, and the implications to teens are obvious. It means that regardless of legal status, even those close to adulthood don’t necessarily make the best decisions. This is all the more reason to review the life sentencing of minors. Even if they lack some sort of psychiatric disability, they still aren’t fully capacitated to make adult choices. Scientists have also recently made new discoveries about this specific part of the brain, detailed on This new information will help the study of psychiatric disease that affects the frontal lobe, and will foreseeably shed light on ways to help with these problems.


Matt: In an article done by Youth Today, they cited a study done by the federal government in 1992 showed that kids in juvenile detention centers don’t have access to a doctor or nurse on a daily basis. It would be very hard for these kids to get diagnosed with any mental disorder if they can’t see a doctor. How much are these kids to blame if they are going undiagnosed with mental disorders, especially when it would be hard for their parents to pay for doctor’s visits with their low income earnings. If children with undiagnosed mental disorders are committing crimes and just being thrown into these detention centers and then released with no rehabilitation, how much good is that doing these children?


Will: published an article containing studies with other reasons that rehabilitation facilities don’t work for adolescents. The researchers say that those who go to juvenile centers are 37 times more likely to break the law again as an adult, compared to those who are not sentenced. The findings of this study concluded that much of this difference is due to the fact that kids are being put into an environment with those who have similar records. This shows that the problems lay not only with the guards and staff in the systems, but the peers themselves. All of the environmental effects are detrimental to rehabilitation.


Tyler: These juvenile offenders need programs to help place positive role models in their lives. The CDC has suggested that family-based programs can dramatically reduce youth violence and when started at an early age can keep youth from getting involved in crime. The CDC says that, “Parent- and family-based programs can improve family relations and lower the risk for violence by children especially when the programs are started early” suggesting that the parents learn nonviolent ways to communicate with their children. Mentoring programs pair an at-risk youth with an adult that can serve as a positive role model and help keep these young offenders on the right track so that they do not become offenders or so that they do not re-offend. The hard part of these programs is keeping all of the juveniles on track. I do not believe that there is any way to keep every child from becoming an offender but I do believe that these programs can start to reduce the number of juvenile offenders we see in our communities.


Will: The main point that I glean from this is that any and all of our criminal justice and rehabilitation for minors is flawed in a large way. It isn’t just a small problem, it is a huge one. Minors being sentenced as adults is unfair to them because they are not capacitated as an adult intellectually, and therefore have less degree of responsibility. The problem is that juvenile systems set them up for failure later in life. Before they have any true chance to change, they will offend again as an adult, and will then be charged and imprisoned. Many of the laws about youth trials are being changed currently, so I feel that the most pressing issue is safety in juvenile facilities. The biggest way to change the problems that are faced is more of a focus on education for employees, because they hold the future of these young adults in their hands.


Matt: I believe that these kids who are becoming criminals at a young age have mental disorders that could easily be diagnosed by a doctor if they could get good access to doctors and nurses. If these mental disorders could be treated I believe that we would see less young offenders and have less people in juvenile detention centers. As a whole, there are many problems with the juvenile criminal justice system. The lack of health care that these kids are receiving is devastating to their futures, and there isn’t just one way to fix the issues. It dosen’t mean we shouldn’t try.



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