Delaware Supports Improved Rehabilitation for Juvenile Offenders
It’s a tradition as old as time – teens experimenting with alcohol, drugs, and engaging in minor crimes. And yes, drugs and alcohol are nothing to trifled with, especially at such a young age. However, it’s relatively common, and some believe that the system unjustly sentences teens to years of struggles under the umbrella of a criminal record. That is, the system should seek to improve rehabilitation for juvenile offenders instead of simply punishing them.
One would think that misdemeanor teenage crimes would not come back to haunt. They do, however, when the former youth mature and try to buy a house, take college courses, or buy a weapon. Indeed, the offense can linger on a record for years, affecting the former offender in a myriad of way which hinder their life.
Expungement, in which a first-time offender of a previous criminal conviction requests the record of the earlier process be sealed, can actually be quite difficult. This fact is probably not really beneficial for anyone.
The Delaware Kid’s Caucus is a committee developed which concentrates on youth issues. In a recent meeting, lawmakers and other officials heard about initiatives to enhance rehabilitation for juvenile offenders, and find ways of erasing those nasty marks on their permanent records.
The Juvenile Civil Citation Program was created in 2015 by the Department of Services for Children, Youth, and their Families. It offers an alternative means of punishment for juveniles apprehended for low-level crimes, such as alcohol or marijuana (less than 1 ounce) possession. Other violations include criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct, loitering, and shoplifting.
This program allows police officers to refer youth to 90-day programs versus arresting them. However, they don’t get off that easy. Rehabilitation for juvenile offenders also includes community services, substance abuse assessment, and recidivism avoidance. This limits the youth experience with the justice system, and also allow those resources to be used for more serious crimes.
The reality is, the human brain takes over 20 years to completely develop. Teens are naturally more prone to taking risks and behaving impulsively. That is, they have a great potential to outgrow their criminal behavior. And creating criminals in their youth is probably contributing to adult criminality when they have trouble overcoming their past.
I believe this is a positive departure from the crackdowns which ensued beginning in the 1980’s, with the “tough on crime” movement, as well as “Just Say No” and M.A.D.D. campaigns.
G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology