The juvenile justice system has made dramatic changes over the past thirty years. In three landmark cases, Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court recognized that juvenile offenders are different from adult offenders. These cases marked a shift in the way the judiciary understands the cognitive differences between juveniles and adults. However, despite advancements in the system, courts have failed to properly focus on the goal of rehabilitation.
In The (Unfinished) Growth of the Juvenile Justice System, which will be featured in the New England Law Review’s Volume 50, Issue 2, Conor Walsh argues that a focus on rehabilitation is the key to meaningful reform of the juvenile justice system. With high recidivism rates, courts have incorrectly focused on punishment, rather than rehabilitation, so juvenile offenders are not successfully assimilating back into society. With most juvenile offenders likely to re-enter society, rehabilitation is necessary to ensure a successful transition which, in turn, prevents recidivism. Moreover, because juveniles are more capable of change than adults, rehabilitation is a realistic possibility.
Conor Walsh’s Article reasons that education is the answer in order to properly rehabilitate juvenile offenders. Juvenile detention centers should make education a priority, not just a formality. Specifically, the Article calls for quality classroom education as well as vocational and technical options for students not suited for a traditional education. The Article highlights the need for special education programs to become a staple in juvenile detention centers, as many juvenile offenders suffer from intellectual disabilities. Walsh also conveys the need to re-focus state and federal budgets to ensure the appropriate funding is provided to the detention centers. Now is the time for the juvenile system to make rehabilitation its focus rather than just meaningless rhetoric.
This Article will appear in full in Volume 50, Issue 2 of the New England Law Review, due to be published late Spring.