Over the past decade, Leslie Acoca, who founded and directs the National Girls Health and Justice Institute, has visited dozens of juvenile detention centers across the country, researching the health care given to girls in the facilities. Her work has yielded a surprising finding: poor physical health seems to increase girls’ risk of recidivism. In other words, girls who have health problems are more likely to reoffend and end up back in the criminal justice system.
Leslie Acoca, who founded and directs the National Girls Health and Justice Institute, gives a Girls Health Screen to Reylene (Photo by Jenny Gold/KHN).
Acoca is a psychologist who became interested in the treatment of girls in detention while serving as an expert witness in a California courtroom 12 years ago. As Acoca explains it, a young woman hobbled into the courtroom eight months pregnant and fully shackled at her feet, wrists and belly. Acoca stood up and asked the judge why the girl was bound in that way, to which the judge replied that the young woman was a flight risk.
“Have you ever been pregnant?” Acoca asked the male judge; she was promptly escorted out of the courtroom.
Report Finds Juvenile Incarceration Ineffective in Preventing Crime, The Cavalier Daily
The current legal system incarcerates too many minors, according to a National Research Council report led by University Law Prof. Richard J. Bonnie. Scientific research into adolescent development suggests confinement is not advisable for minors, as juveniles are less likely to reoffend if sentenced with community service and other measures of restitution instead of jail time.
The legal system was founded on assumptions that do not apply to minors, according to the report. Instead, researchers are advocating for the juvenile legal system to be informed by recent scientific findings.
“Our committee was charged with reviewing the growing body of behavioral and neuroscientific knowledge about adolescent development and drawing out [its] implications for the design and operation of the juvenile justice system,” Bonnie said in an email.
Juvenile incarceration tends to increase the rate of second offenses rather than reduce it, according to the report. Most adolescents mature out of certain qualities that tend to lead to crime, including a high sensitivity to peer influence and high tendency to make decisions without regard to the future.
Juvenile Justice has Lots its Way, The Gleanor
It is unfortunate that the Jamaican juvenile justice system has lost its traditional focus and 16-year-old Vanessa Wint had to die to remind us that the Horizon Adult Correctional Centre is not a place to house adolescents.
This youngster needed to be on the psychiatric ward of a hospital, where the necessary mental-health care that she required could be administered.
After 50 years of Independence, it goes without a doubt that the care of Jamaica’s most vulnerable (children) is deficient in its adherence to basic human rights, such as health care. Regardless of circumstance, the child should not have died.
Forrest County Jail ‘Backslinding’, Jackson Free Press
Forrest County is moving backward when it comes to making changes at its youth detention center.
A Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit filed on behalf of children housed at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center resulted in a settlement to end what the SPLC calls “dangerous conditions” at the jail.
A full year after the settlement was reached, however, an independent monitor assigned to keep track of the county’s progress concludes Forrest County is behind schedule or backsliding in implementing reforms.
“It’s disappointing that the county has not made more significant progress,” SPLC staff attorney Elissa Johnson said.