📝 Fooling With The Ruling 📝 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team Blog Surrounding Policies
Previously in the first segment of this blog, we discussed the various issues seen within our juvenile facilities as they stand today. Despite the overwhelming amount of adolescents being incarcerated...
daily, it seems that this matter continues to be overlooked by our society. Considering the stigma of “Once a criminal, always a criminal” it can be difficult to see 48,000 criminals, in a different light, as juveniles that needed proper guidance, support, and another opportunity to create change in themselves. It would be foolish to say that all of these delinquents should be excused for their wrongful actions, but needless to say, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some of these teens are in need of medical help whether being physical, mental, or emotional; a fair court trial, some are currently being held without even undergoing a trial; and better facility conditions, some are facing physical and sexual violence while in custody. In what ways can we possibly work to fix these issues in hopefulness for resolution?
Being a participant in the Juvenile Court program, I’ve been able to observe and participate in several juvenile court hearings, which for one thing, has helped me develop a greater understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system. A concept frequently echoed throughout this program is the distinction between punitive justice and restorative justice. As seen commonly in our justice system today, many judicatures often focus on administering punishments as a way to amend a wrongful act. Although this action initiative may be somewhat reasonable, what, other than the sheer punishment being enforced, is stopping the wrongdoer from committing this act once more?
“Punitive justice”, otherwise known as “retributive justice”, is the method of simply punishing criminal offenders for their misconduct. Fittingly stated by Amulya Gopalakrishnan from UChicago Law, “Punishment of some type may be useful for the future, by deterring wrongdoing and reforming offenders. But the retributive idea of blood for blood is useless and hollow: killing doesn't bring back the dead, it just creates a chain of resentment that is bad for individuals and bad for society.” Punitive justice reduces overall crime by assessing the risks, costs, and benefits when determining the resolution of a particular violation. Through long sentences and costly fines, these proponents often work to deter potential acts from happening: this method of “justice” ignores the needs of victims and perpetrators by promising a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Restorative justice” is the method of repairing harm committed by said violator against the victim and community. As stated from the DoJCD, “Restorative Justice is an approach to justice that aims to involve the parties to a dispute and others affected by the harm (victims, offenders, families concerned, and community members) in collectively identifying harms, needs, and obligations through accepting responsibilities, making restitution, and taking measures to prevent a recurrence of the incident and promoting reconciliation.” The ensued benefits of using this method include preventing re-offenses by violators, empowering victims, and helping repair harm done to the community and those affected: setting a good example for others in the community. As stated before, there are certain instances where punitive justice may be a better alternative in the event of misconduct. That being considered, I believe that the criminal justice system should begin by administering restorative measures to first-time offenders to account for the collective well-being of the victim(s), community, and offender(s). In the case of a re-offense, resorting to punishment would be consequential.
The indispensable rule we as humanitarians need to internalize is empathy. Sometimes conflict can arise simply due to a misunderstanding. As straightforward as it seems, listening and making an effort to understand the other party is ultimately the most effective way to constitute change. For instance, the common dilemma, explained by Colby Phillips from Classroom, “Take a utilitarian approach. In utilitarian ethics, an agent is required to do the action that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. Because stealing a loaf of bread would cause relatively little harm, and preventing his family from starving would be a great good, the action of stealing the bread would be morally justified.” While I think this action lacks certain justification — theft is a violation of property, there was still a more significant reason behind stealing food with the rightful intentions of feeding his family. Although not mentioned in this scenario, there are other alternatives, such as receiving food through a food bank/pantry, qualifying for certain meal plans (food stamps), utilizing coupons, etc. Without establishing alternatives such as these, decidedly, people will have no choice but to steal. Returning to the predicament of the stolen bread, how does this relate to juvenile offenders?
As mentioned before, young adults may sometimes lack guidance or influence from others: caused by the absence of parents, mentors, friends, etc. The absence of direction or the presence of ill-driven advice will all work towards the overall development of a child. As seen in most youth cases, many of these delinquents grew up in a complex environment. Not providing students with resources to reach out to is a fault commonly seen in many schools across the country. Gladly, in Hamilton County, twenty-seven elementary schools in Hamilton County are each equipped with a full-time school counselor after Superintendent Bryan Johnson added seven more to the 2018-19 budget. Despite the new addition of counselors to our community’s schools, there was a discussion of cutting counselors out of the entire school budget plan.
Ideally, I believe that a child should have, at least, three adults in their lives to vent to, ask guidance from, and regularly communicate with. Resulting from this, we can continue to grow and prosper while fully utilizing the great works of our future exemplars. As wonderfully stated by the Children’s Defense organization, “We have better choices than incarceration. Diversion, treatment, after-school, and family support programs support children, keep communities safe and save taxpayer dollars. It is time to end the criminalization of children like Kaia and provide every child time and space for learning, mistakes, and restorative correction by caring adults.” In place of the facilities used as juvenile detention centers (possibly even adult prisons), there are specific ways we can repurpose these buildings in valuable ways. For example, the Osborne Association in Manhattan is a non-profit organization working towards converting a closed women’s prison into a space that provides services to women leaving incarceration; more information here. Together as a nation, we can advance and develop further by directing our focus towards the potential in our youth.