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Why Do Communities Give Juvenile Offenders to the State?


by Joaquin E. DiazDeLeon

The whole point of juvenile incarceration should be about reform, preparing young people to reenter society. Too often though, I felt like nothing more than a paycheck for guards whose sole job it was to lock and unlock doors.

At 16, I was sent to two different state facilities that were more than a hundred miles from my hometown. Gangs dominated the culture, and egos raged out of control. I was in a fight on my very first day.

I think people are missing the point when they debate whether or not counties should retake control of juvenile justice, because I’m shocked communities ever gave teenagers away to the state in the first place. Rehabilitation happens when teenagers are forced to connect to their communities and confront their mistakes. Teen offenders need community support, instead of being locked up far away.

In state lockup, I was mistreated and minimized, and when I returned to my community I felt like an unwanted stranger. Call it realignment, or whatever you want. But it’s time we change the system.

Republished with the permission of Youth Radio. Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.


Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall


“It’s been six months and almost eight hours and I’m getting tired of this place.” Hui (girl), age 15.

Over a period of two years, Susan Madden Lankford and her daughter, Polly, met with young people in trouble with the law and encouraged them to share their hopes, fears and feelings. Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall, is a compilation of youth stories—including that of Hui.

Hui lives in a facility designed for girls needing treatment for drug abuse and/or preparing for reentry into society. Since her entry into the youth facility, Hui has had almost no contact with her family, including two brothers who are also detained in different locations. Although she has come to terms with the fact that what she did was wrong, she has trouble understanding how to move forward, whether anyone will allow her to, or help her do so.

Read Hui's Writing »

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