It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the United States does not have a central juvenile justice system. Instead, it has a collection of over 50 separate justice systems that sometimes surpass everyone’s expectations and other times fail miserably to serve the very kids they are meant to help. With the precipitous rise in the number of cases of children being tried as adults, it is more important than ever for the juvenile justice system to reach out and help kids like never before. Let’s take a look at some good juvenile justice systems and some not so good ones.
Easily, one of the worst juvenile justice systems in the country and one of the most widely criticized is the system in Texas. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in a state that has been dominated by Republican rule for the last several years that a social program that benefits the poor would be overlooked, but not even the most pessimistic critics could foresee the problems that have taken place in the Lone Star State. In an April 2007 exposé in the Washington Post, the various problems that Texas faces were listed for the world to see and the results were far from pretty. There were children who had been incarcerated for years beyond their limits in seemingly every detention center. Widespread abuse in juvenile detention facilities and multiple cover ups by the officials who were supposed to protect the very same children. Now, with a state as large as Texas, no one expects there to be a problem free juvenile justice system; there are simply too many kids, too little money and too many problems, but as the Post article outlined, there was simply too much negligence and intentional cover-ups for this situation to be ignored any longer.
It would be tough to find a state that didn’t at least have scattered problems similar to the ones found in Texas, however, some states, like California, seem to be taking reform seriously. A bill passed last year by the state legislature outlined serious changes in how children are to be detained, for how long and by whom. It is hoped that these changes will help cut through much of the red tape that keeps real change for happening in many juvenile justice systems all throughout the country. This new style of juvenile reform puts an emphasis on the child staying close to home and getting one on one counseling instead of simply locking up the problem. Under the new plan, only the most violent and most dangerous juvenile offenders will be locked up, the rest will be helped by experts to change their ways. There is no way to tell at this point of the California system will reduce abuse and negligence but many child experts agree that it is a step in the right direction.
No one can say that their state has the perfect juvenile justice program but with the proper refinement, the perfect system might be in the works as we speak.