What stops high-risk juveniles from further crime?
A report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention based on the “Pathways to Desistance” project offered up a serious look at what deters high-risk kids from committing future crimes.
More than 1,300 delinquents from Philadelphia and Phoenix were interviewed seven years after they were convicted. They were asked about the factors—becoming more mature, life changes and whether they were involved again with the criminal-justice system—that led youth who have committed serious offenses to continue or stop offending.Among the findings were:
Locking up a hard-core juvenile offender has no deterrent effect when compared to kids who are placed on probation. Incarcerating a juvenile may keep that teen out of the community for a while, but on return, there is no indication that he or she will be any less inclined to commit crimes.
What about the length of incarceration? Does keeping a kid in jail or detention longer translate into less likelihood of future delinquency? According to the study, the answer is no. In for a little or in for a lot, neither served to discourage criminal behavior.
The study also suggested that law enforcement should concentrate on certain crimes and not throw a broad net over all infractions. As an example, to reduce breaking and entering, patrol cars should not come around a fixed schedule. Mixing up timing of rounds, will create a “higher uncertainty” for delinquents, and they might decide it’s not worth risking getting caught.
Another aspect studied was why those committing juvenile crimes choose to continue committing crimes and others choose a different course. According to the report, “What is clear is that the extent to which offenders apply decision making processes varies. Recidivism rates of previously sanctioned juvenile and adult offenders are high; however, they are not 100 percent . . . Some offenders persist, whereas others desist. Desistance itself takes several forms. For some, it is spontaneous and abrupt; others desist incrementally over time; some desist for varying time intervals; and still others desist from serious crime by shifting to less serious (and potentially less costly) crimes.”
Community-based programs steer juveniles away from delinquency
While all this is well and good—and keep in mind the study was only aimed at the question of desistance—why wait until bad behavior escalates and youths are taken out of their homes at great cost to society when community-based programs such as MST is proven to reduce recidivism?
As John Kelly writing in the Chronicle of Social Change sees it, “this research...can be a critical selling point for effective community-based juvenile justice programs.”
He feels community-based programs provides the answer to the conundrum of arrest, detainment, probation and how effective they are in stopping crime. “[Community-based programs] are, at present, the hole in the center of the information donut when it comes to deterring future criminal behavior. This study reveals some interesting things about the front and back end of the system. Hopefully, someone will devote the same attention to measuring the middle.”