Violent juvenile offenders: Adult time for adult crime?
Jan 27, 2010
by Lisa Rea
The topic of what to do with juvenile offenders keeps coming up in the U.S., and elsewhere, in part because we have no consistent response to juvenile crime. The issue of juvenile crime is hot, too, because there are few answers. It is good to see that according to this CNN piece that in the U.S. states are apparently "rethinking adult time for adult crimes" committed by juvenile since sending juveniles to adult prisons just flat out doesn't work. Say what you want about crimes rates declining in some areas or in some states, there is limited evidence that the decline in juvenile crime is due to policies that put juveniles together with adult criminals, many of them hardened offenders.
In this CNN news piece there is a discussion of juvenile crime and the topic of "scientific research on the adolescent brain." I tend to bristle at this type of discussion. Maybe it's because I work with victims of violent crime. I think of their reaction. Some might agree that the juvenile brain is different than that of an adult and therefore decisions made by juveniles should be judged differently. But some crime victims I know would be horrified by this presentation of evidence (and they would question it) since it seems like an excuse for the behavior of juveniles who have committed horrific crimes. Does that excuse their behavior? If this scientific research is compelling and policy makers were to take it seriously and make policy decisions based on it the fact remains that there have been some seriously violent crimes committed by juvenile offenders. What do we do with them?
When I read this story, however, I think about the efficacy of restorative justice. It works. The evidence based research is there. Some of the best research has been conducted by Dr. Heather Strang and Dr. Lawrence Sherman. The research conclusions reached by Strang and Sherman cover much ground. But some of the very interesting findings include the following: restorative justice seems to reduce crime more effectively with more rather than less, serious crimes. The research also suggests that restorative justice works with violent crime more consistently than with property crimes.
For many years most of us in this field have heard arguments made by those not convinced of the value of restorative justice that RJ should be used ONLY with nonviolent crimes, particularly property crimes. In fact, most of those who take this position stress that RJ should be used ONLY with juveniles. This research apparently shows the value is increased when used in cases of violent crime. My reason for highlighting this research is to stress the importance of restorative justice in cases of juvenile crime---violent crime. Should juveniles be punished by sending them to adult prisons? No. Should policymakers and judges consider increasing the use of restorative justice in cases of juvenile crime? Yes, and again, the evidence is there. It works.