January 3, 2012
We're Arresting Too Many Kids for the Wrong Things
Too many teens and children are being arrested for the wrong things -- and it's wasting resources and lives. So argues Abby Anderson, director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (an NJJN member), who published an op-ed Jan. 3 in The Hartford Courant titled, "Arrests Poor Answer for Youths in Trouble."
Anderson made reference to a new study in Pediatrics that examined national arrest rates for youth age 8 to 23 over an 11-year period, between 1997 and 2008. The study concluded that one in three youth would be arrested by age 23 -- and that the average had increased substantially since 1965, the last time a rigorous evaluation was conducted. This, in spite of the fact that a new bulletin from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Juvenile Arrests 2009, showed that youth arrests for violent crime had dropped 10 percent since 2008, to their lowest level in 20 years.
Consistent with the federal data, Anderson pointed out that most students are not being arrested for serious crimes, but for minor behavior violations like possessing tobacco. Rather than hand these children and teens off to school police and the courts, Anderson said, they should be disciplined informally. Why? Because it's cheaper, more effective, and doesn't subject youth to the consequences of involvement in the legal system: i.e., "increased risk of unhealthy lifestyle, violence involvement, and violent victimization," according to Pediatrics.
Given that teens are being regularly pepper sprayed by police officers in at least one school district for non-criminal activity, it's high time we rethink how we treat our teenagers. We need to stop treating them like rioters and start helping them be successful. Our communities will be safer and healthier as a result.