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August 5, 2011 > Juvenile Hall: Inappropriate for Young Minors

Juvenile Hall: Inappropriate for Young Minors

By Dave Cortese

If you speak to anyone on the street, there will be an almost unanimous consensus that most minors under the age of 18 should not be placed in adult jail facilities where they would interact with hardened criminals and witness unsavory activities. This viewpoint was actually memorialized with the passing of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act prohibiting the placement of youth in adult jails except under very limited circumstances so that the young minds of juveniles would not be influenced by older offenders.

It is with similar reasoning that, at my request, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has adopted a policy which states that minors 12-years-old and younger, should not be placed in Juvenile Hall. The county should develop alternatives for the safe, temporary placement of children 12 and under who commit a serious crime.

In a congregate care setting such as Juvenile Hall, opportunities are numerous for impressionable young children to model their behavior through older peers who have often been through the system many times and developed negative behaviors. As a result, rather than providing positive role models, Juvenile Hall actually increases the chance that the young children will become repeat offenders.

That is not to say that children should not be punished for committing serious crimes; children of that age are easily influenced and the County should help guide them towards being a good citizen. Too often, young children who commit crimes are instantly labeled as life-long criminals when, with the right atmosphere and mentoring, they can learn right from wrong.

By placing young children into Juvenile Hall, there is a risk of further aggravating any trauma these children have already experienced. According to a study by the County's Juvenile Justice Commission, 90% of children under 13 years old, placed in Juvenile Hall from 2007 to 2009, had a history of trauma or child abuse, a diagnosed mental illness or an absent parent. Rather than correcting their behavior, the experience of being locked up will most likely make it even harder to educate these youth on how to become good citizens.

As an alternative, the county is developing therapeutic foster homes providing a more constructive experience for children in a nurturing environment with a greater likelihood of a positive outcome. It is believed that this policy is the first of its kind in the nation.

I have asked Santa Clara County to explore working with neighboring counties to develop a policy of shared placements appropriate for children 12 years old and younger who commit a serious crime. Through this program, we can break the cycle of violence and steer young children towards a path of success.

If you would like to learn more about this policy or would like to know how you can help, please call me at (408) 299-5030 or email: dave.cortese@bos.sccgov.org.

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