Radek M. Gadek is a graduate of the Boston University’s Master in Criminal Justice program. He is the founder of Criminal Justice Online, an interactive blog dedicated to criminal justice academia and law enforcement careers.
Since its inception, the correctional system in the U.S. aimed to keep crime out of the streets. There are notable differences, however, when it comes to the way juveniles and adults are ultimately being helped while within the “system.” One must consider the age of an adult person in the United States is eighteen, and often, this is where the line gets drawn between being convicted of a crime as a juvenile and as an adult.
As long as a juvenile is being tried in a juvenile court and is convicted of a crime there, they will not enter the adult facilities until they turn the legal age of adulthood (exceptions apply). This makes a huge difference when it comes to rehabilitation, suppression of future crimes, and length of sentence.
It’s widely known that each correction system uses incarceration to punish offenders. However, rehabilitation is often the key concept of juvenile corrections, and not adult corrections. There are more incentive programs offered for adolescent criminals. For example, American Youth Prevention Forum states that
Services found to be effective in juvenile justice include: smaller, 15-25 bed, programs that reduce violent incidents; low staff/student ratios that lead to higher academic achievement; five hours of academic instruction per day (usually required by law); cognitive restructuring programs that, among other things, help young people understand thinking errors which get them into trouble; and gradual returns to the community from secure facilities through day treatment which reduces recidivism, results in higher levels of academic achievement and provides more connections to employers.
This kind of care is not fully available in the adult correctional system-it focuses stringently on punishment and offers only a handful of rehabilitation initiatives when compared to its juvenile counterpart. It’s a shame. Even though many first time offenders commit crimes before their 21st birthday, society contends such services would not work well with adult prisoners and would be a waste of taxpayer money at the benefit of “hardened” criminals.
Juvenile corrections also differs from its adult counterpart in the types of facilities used to store detainees and prisoners. According to a FindLaw article “Jails and Prisons: Types and Kinds,”
Juvenile detention facilities are often run much like a regular prison or jail, with strict schedules, codes of expected behavior, and punishment for misbehavior” and further for “the purpose of placing juvenile offenders in separate facilities from adult criminals is to insulate juveniles from “bad influences,” to protect them, and to attempt to curb criminal tendencies before adulthood is reached.
There are a lot more types of facilities for adults than for juveniles. Private jails and prisons contracted by the government, regional jails, minimum security, low security, medium security, maximum security, and super-maximum security facilities mainly serve the adult population. Places like secure mental health facilities, boot camp incarceration, and juvenile detention facilities are more conducive to juvenile corrections; although, some of the mentioned facilities may be used interchangeably for both juveniles and adults.
The reason for all these measures is to prevent, curtail, and eradicate crime. But it seems the juvenile corrections system is set in place with a grander purpose. It is done in order to help rehabilitate rather than confine the troubled adolescents. In reality, I believe adult correctional systems are not as cruel as TV or I depict, and they do offer some help for prisoners, including rehabilitation and educational opportunities for inmates.
Yet, more needs to be done to promote rehabilitation within the adult jails and prisons. What do you think?