Adolescents and the Criminal Justice System

827 words | 3 page(s)

In modern societies, it is common to find adolescents engaging in criminal activities which expose them to precarious conditions in criminal justice systems. In an article published on the NBS News website titled Criminal justice system’s ‘dark secret’: Teenagers in solitary confinement, Chuck, Cohen & Koch (2013), provide valuable insights into the negative aspects of presenting juveniles to the rigors of the criminal justice system. The report provides juvenile detainees are subjected to such punishments as solitary confinement. This presents them with adverse psychological impacts which have led to suicide cases among juvenile detainees. Juvenile correctional facilities subject juvenile detainees to adverse psychological experiences. These are greatly compounded by reason of their immaturity and inability to withstand such psychological stresses. This paper seeks to address this issue by reviewing the NBC News article by proposing other means of punishment other than solitary confinement.

The psychological impact of being held in solitary confinement is detrimental to juvenile offenders
Adolescent criminal offenders are in most cases teens with some degree of mental illness. As such, they are already under significant psychological distress during commission or omissions of crime. As Chuck, Cohen & Koch (2013) reports, Stewart is just one of many adolescents in adult prisons subjected to solitary confinement in an effort to protect them from adult inmates. Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment aimed at making inmates subjective to the rules and regulations of correctional facilities. This implies that even adult prisoners have to have committed serious criminal offences in prison to be subjected to solitary confinement.

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Conditions in solitary confinement are so terrible such that American soldiers captured by the North Koreans during the Korean War were known to become psychotic after being subjected to solitary confinement (Chuck, Cohen & Koch, 2013). If hardened soldiers become psychotic after such experiences, then adolescents are at a much greater risk of mental illness due to the psychological distress subjected during solitary confinement.

Solitary confinements subjects adolescents to disorientations as to who they are and their purpose in life, confused and disheveled (Chuck, Cohen & Koch, 2013). Some say that solitary confinement deprives them of the ability to reason logically.

Juveniles held in solitary confinement are more likely to commit suicide than their adult counterparts
James Stewart, a juvenile detainee at the Denver County Jail committed suicide while in remand pending a criminal trial case (Chuck, Cohen & Koch, 2013). The minor was unduly subjected to juvenile detention in an effort to protect him from adult detainees. After being paired with another juvenile offender, he was quickly put back into solitary confinement for a quarrel with his new inmate. Apparently, the initial experience in solitary confinement had already caused him to be mentally unstable hence the argument. The second experience resulted in the juvenile committing suicide. The most common means of committing suicide among juveniles in solitary confinement is hanging as did James Stewart.

The US Department of Justice provides that about 100,000 adolescent offenders are held in adult correctional facilities within the US. Human Rights Watch provided that, in New York correctional facilities, about 14% of juveniles in adult prisons have experienced solitary confinement (Chuck, Cohen & Koch, 2013). At the Riker’s Island correctional facility, the average time that an adolescent spends in solitary confinement is 43 days and 23 hours.

There are a plethora of alternatives for punishing juvenile offenders who are being tried as adults, and these alternatives should be examined and implemented
Taking away the privileges of adolescent detainees and subjecting them to extreme forms of punishment in the guise on protecting them from adult inmates is unacceptable. The HRW/ACLU publish a report that such prevalent practices in the US criminal justice system only serves to subject adolescents to mental health problems (Chuck, Cohen & Koch, 2013).

Solitary confinement experts provide that adolescents who have experienced solitary confinement commonly suffer significant mental and psychological impairments that last a lifetime (Chuck, Cohen & Koch, 2013). The practice of subjecting juveniles to solitary confinement should be done away with conclusively. The criminal justice system should therefore look for alternative means the best being dedicating a section of prisons and jails for juvenile detention.

The NBC News website has provided the American society with great insights as to the dark secrets of the US criminal justice system. This practice should be of great concern to the general American society. This is because after serving prison terms, these juveniles will be released back to the society. Having mentally instable society members with a criminal history is terrible news for any law abiding citizen. There is the need for the US criminal justice system to review its policy with regard to juvenile system. It should ban solitary confinement for juveniles forthwith and provide alternative means for housing juveniles that allow them healthy psychological and mental development as well as prepare them well for reintegration into the society.

  • Chuck, E., Cohen, D. & Koch, S. (March 22, 2013). Criminal justice system’s ‘dark secret’: Teenagers in solitary confinement. NBC News. Retrieved from http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/22/17403150-criminal-justice-systems-dark-secret-teenagers-in-solitary-confinement?lite

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