When an adult commits a crime we send them to jail or prison. When a youth commits a crime however, we send them to their own version of jail. Called ‘juvenile detention’ this facility is tasked with the ‘detention’ of a youth who has committed an act that they are legally not allowed to do. We expect that these facilities will help to rehabilitate a youthful offender and lead them to avoid the same type of behavior in the future, but are they really doing that?
What it Means to Go To Juvenile Detention
In many ways, juvenile detention is similar to a jail, but it’s full of other youth rather than adults. Those youth could have committed any type of offense from skipping school to robbery. As long as they are being charged as a juvenile, their crime gets them sent here, with other kids. The kids are provided with uniforms and all of their personal belongings are taken away. They’re provided with individual rooms that consist of barely more than a bed and a small table or desk, both of which may be built right into the walls and floor.
The days are regimented with all activities being required, including time outdoors or in a gym, class time and more. Youth are allowed free time, but it’s when the staff chooses to provide it and that free time is based on the behavior of the youth up until that point. Youth may be permitted to watch TV but may have to earn additional privileges like being able to play games, read books, draw, write letters or anything else. In order to be able to do these things, youth must either earn or be able to retain points throughout the day.
Does Rehabilitation Work?
Rehabilitation definitely can work, but it needs to be done in careful ways. For youth, juvenile detention is intended to help rehabilitate them. It’s designed to make sure that they see what could happen to them if they continue to break the law, and it’s designed to keep them separate from adult offenders because they are different from those adult offenders. But in many ways, it’s a type of punishment for those children simply being children in the first place. After all, in an environment where all your time is regimented, there’s not much you can get in trouble for.
Youth can be punished for moving without asking permission, talking to loudly or even at all, touching other youth in any manner, outbursts, teasing or joking with other youth and most definitely talking back to the staff. Any of these offenses can be punished by losing points, being sent to their rooms or even losing privileges like games or even visits from their family. While punishments of some type are necessary for extreme behavior or anything that could be dangerous, punishing children simply for acting like children, especially when that’s the exact reason they’re in the facility, is troublesome.
When we treat youth in a detention facility as though the behaviors that are completely normal to their age group are bad and meant to be eradicated, we are essentially destroying the very reason that those youth are in the facility in the first place. In many ways, a juvenile facility can cause more harm in the process of rehabilitation, if they aren’t careful. Teaching youth to grow up too quickly can only emphasize the problems they are already having, and can definitely result in more difficulty in rehabilitating them while in the facility and even after they leave it.