“Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth.”1
It is commonly understood that people of all kinds break the law: female, male, white, black, old, young… Yet not all of them are caught, accused, and stigmatized bearing the label of criminal. Not all.
Think of those that are indeed detained for one thing or another. Do they all have the same chance of getting the negative social consequences “cleaned up”? Some do, but some don’t, right? Some just leave with a word of warning and get to turn back from a dead end where they would have been confronted with a criminal identity. Some get the label “wiped off”.
But, if the person caught gets arrested and charged with a crime, this has a crucial effect upon the rest of his or her life. Or does it not? If the person is young he or she gets to bear the label of juvenile delinquent with every step along the way reinforcing the sense that they have become someone different from the normal. They acquire a criminal identity; a heavy burden to kick off.
“Kids can sometimes see their lives destroyed by the merest brush with the criminal justice system. In one of the most outrageous examples, between 2003 and 2008, two Pennsylvania judges – Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan – sentenced thousands of children to juvenile detention centers, sometimes on trivial charges. These juveniles were sent to private, for-profit detention centers, whose operators paid the judges for filling their beds.”2
Now, let’s go back to the beginning of the beginning for a change. Why would someone – let’s say a youth – commit a crime? Was he hanging with the wrong crowd? Is she trying to get away from a broken home? Does he feel hopeless growing up in an area of poverty and disillusionment thinking society has no use for him? Does the lack of opportunities to change her social condition push her towards it?
But not everyone who lives through these experiences is given – for one thing or another – the label of criminal, right? That we know. So this takes us where now?
It is commonly understood that people of all kinds break the law: young, old, black, white, male, female … Yet not all of them are caught, accused, and stigmatized bearing the label of criminal. Not all. “[A]s the school year opens, and our eyes turn again to young people and the justice system, it’s worth revisiting the failings of the systems we have created.”3
1. Rachel Jackson.
2. Zero Tolerance for Childhood. A reminder as the school year opens: The juvenile justice system eats kids for breakfast. Dahlia Lithwick. Slate.
3. Zero Tolerance for Childhood. A reminder as the school year opens: The juvenile justice system eats kids for breakfast. Dahlia Lithwick. Slate.