Editor’s Note: Opportunity and Need in the Juvenile Justice System

Spring is coming to Chicago. Along with warmer temperatures, the sun has also brought more visitors to the University of Chicago campus. High school juniors and seniors – often with parents and reluctant siblings in tow – are scouting the quad, readying themselves for college and the future.

Their presence and the optimism they represent dramatically contrasts the low-opportunity reality faced by juvenile offenders in the United States.

On any given day, 81,000 juvenile offenders are held in detainment centers nationwide. In the wake of the 2012 Supreme Court decision to eliminate mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide, efforts have been made to reevaluate the role that the justice system plays in protecting and rehabilitating young people.

This week, the Chicago Policy Review’s Child and Family team presented a series of five articles detailing recent research on juvenile justice. The series began with a pair of articles on two risk factors for involvement in juvenile justice: parental incarceration (Schexnider) and school suspension policies (Healy).

On Wednesday, the focus shifted to the incarceration experience itself, with articles on the tragic frequency of abuse within the juvenile justice system (Repka) and the ways in which young women can take advantage of detention center services to improve their lives once released (Geraghty).

Finally, we focused today on what can be done post-incarceration to best support young people with criminal records (Edwards).

The articles share a compelling theme: those involved in the juvenile justice system are often the product of their environments. Adverse environments and policies, research finds, can shape both whether a young person enters a detention facility and what happens to them after they serve time.

It is clear that involvement in the juvenile justice system has powerful, lasting consequences for those involved. These consequences prevent many from participating in opportunities that would otherwise be available to them, including, as research shows, going to college. As policy-makers look forward during this season of promise, it is time they consider the full body of research indicating that existing systems bar many youth from seeking opportunity.

Feature Photo: cc/(redjar)

Oona Bernhardt
Oona Bernhardt is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Policy Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in aging and end-of-life policy.

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