National Youth Justice Awareness Month Event Highlights Need for Rehabilitative Perspective in Juvenile Justice System

On October 12th, the First Annual Justice for Youth Summit was held at American University in Washington, DC. The event featured a variety of presenters (formerly incarcerated youth, affected family members of (formerly) incarcerated youth, nonprofit service providers for incarcerated youth, lawyers, and a professional photographer.

An overarching theme was that far too often youth are being incorporated into the adult criminal justice system, which can be ineffective in reducing recidivism. Emphasis was placed on rehabilitative and treatment approaches like counseling, community service, education, treatment, and restitution. Post-release employment and recidivism are usually the two possible outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals, and treating youth in the same manner as adult criminals unfortunately can direct young people towards the latter.

Advocacy for this issue is just as important as the work itself, because of general stigmas often placed on (youth) offenders. The federal government, however, has limited involvement – most juvenile justice policies are determined at the state level. Therefore, concerned citizens, activists, and advocates should educate themselves about their own state’s policies in regards to the treatment of youth and young adults within the criminal justice system.