Why juveniles don't always go to jail

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - One juvenile court judge told Cleveland 19 that not all kids are locked up for crimes, and she doesn't think they should be.

Judge Denise Rini spoke to Cleveland 19, offering a perspective rarely heard about the juvenile justice system.

"We want to always strike a balance, but to the people that say, 'oh just lock them up' I would say that when [juveniles] get out, we are going to be far worse off," Rini said.

The purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate, not to punish.

Rini said that it's important to point out that the juvenile system loses jurisdiction over kids when they turn 21.

"When they get out and we lose jurisdiction at 21, so when they are released do you want somebody that's going to abide by all the laws that we have in place? Or do you want someone who's just going to go on and commit more crimes because they haven't been socialized, or haven't been brought into the community? So we try balance rehabilitation with a little bit of punishment, with a lot of treatment, so that hopefully when they get out, if we put them away, that they will become really productive citizens," Rini said.

She admits that while judges try to make the right decisions when it comes to detaining kids, they aren't perfect.

"I hope that when I release a youth to the community, that their family has them wrapped up enough that they're not going to go out at midnight, one o'clock in the morning and commit crimes. There's no guarantee, and all we can do is what we think is best," Rini said.

She also pointed out the high cost of locking up juveniles, but in addition to that, both she, and research, point to other community and societal concerns.

According to research cited by the Justice Policy Institute, in a Wisconsin study, 70 percent of kids who were held in a secure detention center were arrested or returned to jail within one year.

Research done by the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also determined:

"Longer stays in juvenile facilities did not reduce reoffending; institutional placement even raised offending levels in those with the lowest level of offending. Youth who received community based supervision and aftercare services were more likely to attend school, go to work, and avoid further offending during the 6 months after release, and longer supervision periods increased these benefits."

Another issue, is something psychologists call "peer deviancy training."

"You could have a youth that's riding around in a car, it may be stolen, but if you put him in with the aggravated robbery youth, then [sic] they have more of an opportunity to bring that youth over to their side," Rini said.

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