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The Big Question

David M. Altschuler, a principal research scientist at Hopkins' Institute for Policy Studies, travels extensively in the U.S., advising public and private juvenile justice officials, state legislators, direct service practitioner groups, and researchers. He has been working with the government of Singapore on juvenile corrections reform since 2000.
Photo by John Davis

Q: Does "Getting Tough" on Juvenile Offenders Make Society Safe?
A: "No. As 'get tough' on juvenile crime policies increasingly take hold in America, more and more adolescent offenders are being locked up and for longer periods of time. Contrary to what some people may expect, this trend may actually jeopardize public safety. That's because many teenage offenders come out in worse shape than when they went in. They've made connections with the wrong kind of people and they've acquired a record that will make it difficult for them to get back into school, get a decent job, or make new friends who aren't involved in crime. We know these are the very things that can lead some kids into more crime rather than less.

"While adolescents have to be accountable and punished for what they do wrong, we need to provide services focused around strengthening family and peer group interactions, education, and vocation, as well as treatment (for example, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, mental health support, conflict management, impulse control, and help with interpersonal skills) — and these services must be developmentally appropriate for teenagers. Any parent knows that children need to be dealt with in an age-specific way; you don't discipline a 13-year-old the same way you would a 17-year-old. Our current system frequently doesn't recognize that. And it's a mistake to assume that the services and sanctions currently in place for adult offenders will work for kids."

Return to November 2004 Table of Contents

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