Juvenile Injustice: Is Jailing America's Youth Heavily Damaging Our Country?

Which country do you think imprisons the most people per capita? If you said something along the lines of North Korea, Iran, or Afghanistan; you are wrong. The United States of America jails more of its citizens than any other country. One sector of the U.S. justice system that is especially flawed is the juvenile justice system. 

In the United States, the age of accountability for federal crimes is 11, and goes as low as 7 on a state level. 7 year olds are hardly equipped to solve simple multiplication, let alone go through a criminal trial. So what happens to these minors who go through the justice system? Most of them are sent to juvenile correction centers where up to 90% reported being exposed to traumatic events, 70% met criteria for a mental health disorder, and 30% suffered PTSD from their experience with the correctional center. Women face an even harder time with over 1 in 4 reporting being either molested or raped. Minorities are more likely to be sent to these facilities because of racism, and they usually don't have access to equally qualified legal representation.

In this day and age, mass incarceration of our youth is neither beneficial or necessary. More liberal countries like Finland and the Netherlands have adopted higher ages of accountability, and have juvenile courts that focus on rehabilitation and restorative justice with incarceration as a last resort. More often than not, these young offenders are still quite malleable, and it does more harm to send them to these centers. Counseling, classes, and community service are all examples of ways that we can help the youth instead of simply sending them to centers. One program that needs to be more widely adopted is youth courts. These courts allow juvenile offenders to go before a panel of their peers and receive a sentence tailored to them and what they need to grow as an individual. For example, an athletic kid who got caught shoplifting might be required to go play basketball with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club.

So what do we gain by taking a more liberal stance on juvenile justice? Statistically lower crime rates, higher rates of mental stability among young people, and tax savings because kids aren't being shipped off to juvenile centers on our dime. The fact of the matter is we need to be more compassionate in the way we deal with our youth and give them every opportunity to be successful in life. That won’t happen if we keep locking them up for every minor offense.

Editor Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the journalists' alone. They do not represent Her Campus at the University of Utah or Her Campus on an international level. Thank you for your devotion and dedication to our magazine.