top of page

Juvenile Justice VS. Recidivism

Professor Sergio Sanchez

Joshua Johnson-Domio

POLS 331-CSU Chico


The effect of the juvenile justice system on Recidivism

Juvenile delinquency is a major problem that lacks the proper attention in the United States. In the news we always hear about adult criminal activity, new laws being passed, and so forth; but rarely do we ever hear about the juvenile delinquents and what happens with them. Over 2.1 million juveniles were arrested in the United States in 2008 and over 80,000 were housed in juvenile detention or correctional facilities (Abrams 2011, 492). This literature review will focus on the effect of the juvenile justice system on recidivism rates. What is meant by recidivism rate is the rate that prior offenders re offend after being released back into the community.While offenders are punished for their crimes, little is done to deter them from continuing a life of crime. Most juvenile offenders tend to recidivate into their adult years. If this occurs, crime will continue to rise as our youth mature and grow up. In order to prevent this, we must understand what causes a juvenile delinquent to recidivate and what will deter them. What is more effective at reducing recidivism rates, rehabilitation or punitive programs?

Some studies show 50 percent of incarcerated youth will have repeat contact with the juvenile justice system (Abrams 2011, 493). Juvenile offenders account for 15 percent of all violent crimes and 24 percent of all property crimes (Ryan 2013, 2). With juveniles making up this portion of crimes, the crime rate is sure to increase if juveniles continue to recidivate into adulthood. Our main focus should not be on adult offenders. Since our youth are the offenders of tomorrow, we should concentrate on rehabilitating juvenile offenders. If we cannot stop recidivism amongst juveniles, then there is even less hope of stopping crime rates from rising. My hypothesis is that juvenile recidivism rates will continue to increase (Dependent Variable) if punishment is imposed on juveniles rather than rehabilitation (Independent Variable). My literature review will seek to answer how the juvenile justice system encourages future criminality, and which juveniles are more at risk of recidivism than others as well as provide reasoning and empirical research.

The system we currently have in play contributes to and causes recidivism in juveniles. This system is retributive justice, which is the theory that holds an offender accountable for a crime by imposing a punishment on them to stigmatise the offender. The theory of retributive justice defines crime as a violation of the state, focuses on establishing guilt for past offenses, makes punishment the definition for offender accountability, replaces one social injury with another (incarceration or punishment), and creates adversarial relationships between the victim and offender. This current system labels the offender as criminal and makes it hard to see anything other than that, causing more criminal behavior. Recidivation also occurs because incarceration actually worsens inmates anti social attitudes and behaviors and teaches them more about crime from other criminals who help offenders develop new skills. Since this form of justice treats crime as a violation of the state the victim is often ignored and left out of the justice process for the most part, if the victim is left out how will an offender be able to repair the harm besides being punished for it? When the offender is given the chance to take active steps to make voluntary reparation to the victim and the victim is given a chance to let the offender know how they have impacted their life, it is usually therapeutic to the victims, and the offender can restore their reputation through reparation and be better prepared for reintegration into the community after facing up to the reality of what they have done (Johnstone, 2001). Punishment is used as a response to crime in retributive justice in order to deter abusers and stimulate behavioral change; however, if we keep imposing punishment rather than rehabilitation, juvenile offenders will continue to recidivate. Incarceration just makes the innocent suffer for the crime and pay through taxation to support the offender, and the offender eventually (in most cases) has to be released and if the offenders outlook has not improved or has worsened then the offender is likely to recidivate.