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Why mass incarceration of American youths requires reform

Traditionally, the criminal justice system has been split into a path for adults and a path for juveniles. When an individual is charged with criminal wrongdoing, he or she is either sent down the adult or the juvenile path in accordance with that individual’s age. One of the primary reasons why two separate paths exist is that the justice system has long recognized that juveniles should generally be given the chance to be rehabilitated and reformed. As a result, juveniles have traditionally been given lighter sentences than adults accused of similar crimes.

However, a staggering number of juveniles have been imprisoned for criminal wrongdoing. Rather than being granted access to rehabilitation programs and other services designed to help these youths, many juveniles have simply been locked away for relatively minor drug crimes, property crimes and other offenses.

Not only is this trend counterintuitive to the goals of the juvenile justice system as a whole, this trend costs the tax payers an absurd amount of money. According to a study recently published by the Justice Policy Institute, the costs of imprisoning juveniles costs the U.S. a minimum of $8 billion annually. Estimated costs reach as high as $21 billion, according to the same report.

Given that 62 percent of juvenile offenders in incarceration have been placed behind bars for nonviolent offenses, this trend and this cost seem ludicrous. Hopefully legislators will soon embrace the principles that ground the juvenile justice system both in theory and in practice for the benefit of juveniles specifically and society as a whole.

Source: Equal Justice Initiative, “Incarcerating Youth Could Cost Taxpayers More Than $8 Billion a Year,” Jan. 7, 2015

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