There is substantial evidence that juvenile incarceration in the US has drastically increased over the last two decades. However, there is insufficient evidence concerning the impact that incarceration has on the future of minor criminals. The labeling theory suggests that sanctions tend to identify offenders negatively, thus amplifying their criminal life after a while; this deterioration of behavior is referred to as deviance amplification. Therefore, instead of reducing criminal activities, sanctions develop a negative attitude of the offender towards the justice system; this happens through adoption of a deviant self-image (Elrod, 2011). Sanctioning, which is in this case incarceration, serves as a severe reaction of society to the offender. This leads to the fact that the offender readily accepts the deviant status imposed by society. On the other hand, specific deterrence theorists suppose that incarceration prevents offenders from going back to the same state of crime once they are released. Specifically, the deterrence takes place when an offender who has gone through the punishment for a particular crime is deterred from committing offence in the future (Schwartz, 1992).

Theorists expect that sanctioning criminals would deter them from committing certain crimes in the future by bringing in more costs than benefits. This argument is more salient for young adults who are engaged in the criminal justice system for the first time. Tagging an individual as a deviant seems to have more effect on young offenders and may fail to apply to criminals who are familiar with the criminal justice system. According to Farrington (1978), labeling effects way fade away after some time, with or without any other convictions. The deterrent influence of incarceration has a significant difference for a younger offender as compared to older criminals. For example, young offenders may have little to lose by engaging in criminal activities and, therefore, they are least likely to be changed by incarceration.

According to Sampson (1993), incarceration does not have a direct impact on the life of a criminal; instead, it has an indirect impact through its effects on future application in crime. Considering these theories, the most recent effort aimed at increasing incarceration of juvenile offenders could result in either decrease or increase of crime rates among young people, or it could not have any impact on crime rates at all. According to statistics, there are over 100,000 juvenile offenders incarcerated within the US. Therefore, resolving this dilemma empirically is important both for theoretical and policy reasons. The current work is an effort to investigate whether incarceration prevents juvenile offenders from committing crimes (Siegel, 2011).

According to the United States Department of Justice, juvenile offenders accounted for approximately 15% of all violent crime offenders that were arrested and about 30 % of property crime offenders in 1999. Additionally, researchers have indicated that this is only a small number of juvenile criminals who are directly responsible for the large majority of crimes. Wolfgang (1981) found that 6 percent of all male teenagers accounted for more than half of all arrested juvenile offenders. The pattern of the repeated offence carries on into the criminal behavior among adults. The Department of Justice Statistics surveyed more than 270,000 people released from prisons in the early 90s. It was found out that more than 60 percent of them were rearrested and charged with a felony or some other serious crimes within a period of three years. Furthermore, apart from the high percentage of the repeat offenders among the criminal population, there is a common belief that criminal activities among adults have increased significantly as cohorts of juvenile offenders become adults over the years. Therefore, it is important for the community of policy makers to introduce any measure that can be used to break the stereotype of juvenile engagement in crime and repeat of offences. While modern sanctions, such as boot camps, are on the rise, the majority of the 21st century juvenile offenders are subject to some form of traditional punishments, such as fines, probation, and detention (McGarrell, 1998).

As a matter of fact, there are more than 100,000 juvenile criminals in residential placement facilities at any given day in the United States. In spite of these alarming statistics, there is much to be done in studying the impact of incarceration on juveniles’ post-release criminal activities. Theoretically, the impact of incarceration on recidivism is confusing. The least implication of Becker’s model on economic and crime (1968) is that there is a probability that the severity of punishment has a deterrent effect on the criminal’s propensity to continue with crime. Therefore, if incarceration of juvenile offenders make them reconsider their beliefs and see that the future punishment will be more brutal, then incarceration has a deterrent effect. To be more precise, the relationship is characterized as a specific deterrence, which tends to inhibit the effects of incarceration on the post-release life of criminals and their involvement in criminal activities (Zimring, 2005).

However, it is possible that incarceration tends to exacerbate the criminal involvement of individuals who have been under the criminal justice system. An example is the labeling theory that, as mentioned above, argues that the imposed legal punishment tends to increase the chance of the punished offender to engage into criminal activities in the future. On the other hand, theorists of the labeling theory believe that incarceration may result in stigmas and increases in crime through peer effects. This theory makes it more likely that a post-released criminal will return to crime. The relationship that exists between recidivism and incarceration tends to bypass the issues that plague the analysis of criminal behavior at an individual level (Torbet, 1996).

Comparing Juvenile Facilities to Adult Facilities Risks for Juvenile Offenders

About a century ago, the juvenile justice structure was developed, since minors were subjected to atrocities in adult correction facilities, and they were released back to society as toughened offenders. As the juvenile system developed, it became evident that accommodating minor offenders and adult criminals under the same facility was an ineffective and destructive practice. Despite these lessons from history, the 21st century policy-makers are poised to reunite juvenile offenders and adults in the same correction facilities (Musick, 1995).

The juvenile justice legislation demands the retention of juvenile offenders with adult offenders. This would force the states to transfer young offenders to adult facilities so that the former would be eligible for the federal funds. Law enforcement officials, child advocates, and criminologists are in the forefront of making Congress take into consideration the destructive impact of placing juvenile offenders in adult corrections facilities. A substantial amount of research indicates that placing juvenile offenders in adult jails is likely to heighten criminal traits after their release (Moore, 2003). Sheriffs, legal professionals, and district attorneys are against the idea, since it will end up with making their work difficult. According to Dilulio, the head of the Conservative Council on Crime in the US, locking up juvenile offenders together with adult criminals does sound a bad idea. While commenting on the discussion, Dilulio noted that jailing juvenile offenders together with adult criminals in the Spartan environment will result in producing more street gladiators. One of the disturbing issues in the bill that proposes the idea of jailing juvenile offenders together with adult offenders is the fear that juvenile offenders who will be placed in adult facilities may become victims of assault, rape, and even end up committing suicide (Schwartz, (In)Justice for Juvenile offenders: Rethinking the Best Interests of the Child, 1989). While there are associations that have lobbied for keeping juvenile offenders separately from adult criminals, the bill before Congress is in support of putting juvenile offenders under adult correction facilities.

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At any given period, more than 100,000 young people under the age of 21 are incarcerated within the United States. Among these juvenile offenders, more than 10,000 young people are held in adult correctional facilities. Whether being in adult facilities or with other juvenile offenders, juvenile prisoners are at risk for sexual abuse. Generally, information about sexual abuse in prison is scarce, and the rate of rapes among juvenile offenders has not been studied. According to BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics), there are more than 5,000 reported cases of sexual abuse within the juvenile corrections authorities. According to data from BJS between 2005 and 2006, there were 17 cases of sexual abuse per 1000 juvenile facilities. A study conducted by BJS in adult jails and prisons found out that juvenile inmates were at higher risk of sexual abuse within such facilities (Shoemaker, 2005).

Even in the light of such alarming information, the data are an underestimate to the nature of the problem, since they consider only cases of sexual abuse that were formally reported. The data collected directly from prisoners by BJS indicated about 15 times more cases of sexual abuse as compared to the report obtained from official records. Survivors of sexual violent behavior in correctional facilities have to go through a great number of barriers to make an official report on abuse committed by adult prisoners. These are barriers of fear, labeling, and the possibility of suffering further assaults. Juvenile survivors have additional obstacles, such as lack of experience of surviving in adult correctional facilities and the fear of adult criminals. Furthermore, criminals in juvenile facilities are allowed to access limited legal services as compared to their adults’ counterparts. In adult facilities, male juvenile offenders are most likely to be abused by adult detainees, while female juvenile offenders are at high risk of being abused by male adult prisoners and staff. In adult correctional facilities, gay, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender juvenile offenders are disproportionately victimized. Particularly, transgender ladies are often plagued by constant harassment, since they tend to be placed in male juvenile facilities on the basis of their birth gender. The JDI holds that prison officials are supposed to consider gender identification and sexual orientation, but not just the birth gender, while making a decision on housing juvenile offenders or assessing inmates’ exposure to sexual abuse (Arrigo, 2004).

In female facilities, juvenile offenders who are known to have some experience in prostitution are the main target for sexual abuse from staff perpetrators. Sexual abuse of girls in female correctional facilities is caused by the US policy that allows male officers to work in those facilities, thus violating international human rights policy. Even though the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Acts forbid jailing juvenile offenders under the same facilities with adults with the exception of some limited circumstances, this does not seem to apply to juvenile offenders prosecuted as adults. There are some states where minors are tried and jailed together with adult criminals. The JDI believes that minors should not be incarcerated together with adult criminals. They also believe that the application of the adult justice system in prosecuting juvenile offenders should be minimized if not minimized (Hartjen, 2004).

Alternatives for Secure Confinement and Detention of Juvenile Offenders

Court officials are supposed to strike a balance between public interests and those of juvenile offenders when deciding about the program for a juvenile offender and the necessary level of restriction. Juvenile offenders who have been charged with serious and violent crimes may need confinement for the purpose of protecting public interests, where offenders are intensively supervised with the intention of rehabilitating them. Alternatively, many juvenile offenders can be rehabilitated effectively through a community based intervention and supervision. Secure imprisonment differs significantly from secure confinement in terms of the reasons as to why the offender is held, as well as in the scope and the intensity of the programs that are available to offenders in both settings. Secure detention is holding a young criminal in a juvenile facility upon arrest. The detention is meant for the purpose of ensuring that the young offender does not miss the court hearing, while at the same time protecting society from further offence on the suspect’s part during the investigation stage (Greifinger, 2007).

On the other hand, secure confinement is for a young suspect who has already been adjudicated a criminal and is committed to the custody of behavior correction facilities for a time ranging from a month to several years. Such confinement facilities have a wider array of programs as compared to detention facilities. Status criminals do not need secure detention to guarantee their compliance with hearing orders and to protect public safety. Nevertheless, recent research has indicated that more than one-third of young people under juvenile detention facilities are detained due to technical violations of probation and status offences. Detaining minors prior to vindication should be an alternative of the last resort for serious crimes, chronic offenders, as well as for suspects who repeatedly fail to honor court orders as scheduled. Secure confinement and detention are almost inappropriate for status criminals and for first-time young offenders charged with minor offences (Greifinger, 2007).

However, an enormous group of criminals fall in the middle range in terms of the intensity of the crimes. For over two decades ago, the increased public concern about the crime and the heightened emphasis on juvenile offenders’ responsibility and accountability seemed to contribute to the reliance of the juvenile justice system on detention and confinement for most minor offenders. It is clear that the quality and accessibility community-based alternatives must be provided to enable cautious use of confinement and detention facilities and programs that are designed to meet the demands of community and the needs of juvenile offenders.

Crowding is one of the major reasons why it is necessary to offer alternatives to secure confinement and detention. Over the past two decades, crowded juvenile correction facilities have been a common phenomenon. During the period between 1990 and 2000, the number of felony cases that involved detention increased by 11 percent. Over the same period, the number of charged cases that is a result of out-of-home placement increased by more than 24%. From these figures, it is clear that most juvenile confinement and detention facilities accommodated more inmates than their capacities. As facilities become more crowded, detention officials must work out new ways of managing admissions and releases of juvenile offenders. Overcrowded correctional facilities can develop into a precarious condition in terms of facility handling. In addition to logistical problems typical of crowded conditions, crowded situations are potential causes of violence in correctional facilities (Moore, 2003). Juvenile offenders are likely to be transported to  emergency facilities owing to injuries that are sustained from confrontation in a crowded facility. Juvenile offenders detained for a long period of time in such facilities are not consulted during preparation of an educational program and other programs that are designed for inmates. For the optimal management of juvenile facilities, it would be ideal to incorporate opinions of juvenile offenders during the decision-making and program-designing processes. 

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