Study: Community supervision offers most benefits for juvenile offenders

The juvenile justice system often emphasizes support and rehabilitation over punishment. Still, as many people in Flagstaff know, convicted juvenile offenders can still face severe sanctions, such as incarceration in state prison. A recent analysis suggests that these harsh measures may have harmful effects on juvenile offenders, while more supportive arrangements, such as community supervision, may offer significant benefits.

Reducing incarceration, recidivism

The study focused on juvenile crimes and recidivism in Texas, where significant changes to the juvenile justice system have been made over the last decade. According to The Columbia Daily Herald, since 2007, the state has reduced the number of juveniles in state prisons. Legislative changes have barred juveniles from being sent to state prison for misdemeanors. The state has also incentivized local authorities to create diversion programs to keep offenders in their communities.

These efforts have made a noticeable difference in juvenile crime and recidivism rates. Texas has been able to shutter nine correctional facilities due to reduced levels of incarceration, and the number of juveniles arrested for subsequent offenses has dropped. According to The Texas Tribune, the number of incarcerated juveniles fell 66 percent, while overall juvenile crime declined 33 percent.

Compared to incarceration, community monitoring appeared to offer significant benefits for young offenders. Juveniles who were released from state prison were 21 percent more likely to offend again than their peers who avoided state prison. Compared to juveniles who offended after completing community programs, juveniles who spent time in state prison were three times more likely to commit felonies when they reoffended.

Juvenile offenses in Arizona

These findings suggest that alternatives to incarceration may greatly lower the risk of juvenile recidivism. In Arizona, the Juvenile Intensive Probation Supervision program offers such an alternative. JIPS allows juvenile offenders to enter a program of structured supervision at home. The program lets juveniles continue many activities that further their personal development, including:

  • Attending school or working
  • Performing community service
  • Completing any treatment that the court has ordered
  • Remaining in a familiar home environment

Unfortunately, this program is not an option for juveniles being charged as adults. Under state law, such charges are possible if a juvenile under the age of 18 commits a felony, such as burglary, trespassing, aggravated drunk driving or intentional infliction of serious injury. Sadly, if the study findings are any indicator, adult prosecution or incarceration in state prison may have significant negative impacts on juvenile offenders.

Pursuing the best outcome

In cases involving alleged juvenile offenses, the help of a criminal defense attorney may be invaluable, given the apparent negative effects of incarceration and the potential gains associated with community supervision. An attorney may be able to provide advice on challenging the charges or working toward a solution that minimizes the long-term consequences of the conviction.