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Rehabilitation Over Reincarceration: Reducing Juvenile Recidivism

Many young people find themselves trapped in the prison system, stuck in an endless cycle of reoffending and reincarceration. Recidivism, defined as “the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend,” is a serious problem for incarcerated juveniles, who do not have the support systems and emotional stability necessary after prison to prevent them from falling back into criminal behavior (MST Services). According to research from Point Park University, some states had juvenile recidivism rates as high as “84%” (Point Park University). Overall, one study found that “40% of juvenile offenders ended up in adult prison” (Point Park University). Thus, reformers must find effective ways to decrease recidivism rates and rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

One of the most successful methods of reducing juvenile recidivism rates is to implement therapy programs such as family therapy, aggression replacement training, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Out of these three options, aggression replacement training—essentially a form of anger management—stands as the most effective, reducing recidivism rates by “17%” (Point Park University). Cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on developing “problem-solving skills” and addressing negative thinking patterns, also has a high rate of efficacy, reducing incarceration rates by “more than 10%” (American Psychological Association, Zuzek-Arden and Boison). Family therapy, though not as effective as other programs, can still benefit incarcerated juveniles, providing them with greater connection to individuals outside of prison and greater familial support while incarcerated. Combining all of these therapy programs will support the many young people in prison who struggle with mental illnesses, decreasing their likelihood of committing more crimes in the future.

In addition to mental health support, life skills education can also prevent juvenile recidivism. Many adolescents in prison struggle to adjust to life after release because they have not received any training for the future. Support for earning a GED, mentorship programs, and job training can all reduce the chances that a juvenile will continue to reoffend after their release. In one study, researchers reviewed data from the “New York State Department of Correctional Services” and found that GED programs in prisons reduced recidivism rates by 9% for juveniles (Nuttall, et al., Staley). Furthermore, mentorship programs provide young people with “a role model” to look up to, while job training can make it easier for them to find employment after incarceration and avoid further offenses (Point Park University). Ultimately, one of the main reasons incarcerated juveniles continue to commit crimes after release is a lack of schooling and support. Mentorship programs, job training, and education programs fulfill these needs, providing incarcerated juveniles with the tools they need to fully return to their communities.

While mental health support and life skills training are essential for reducing juvenile recidivism, prisons will be unable to establish these programs without support from nonprofits and the federal Department of Justice. The Department of Justice, and specifically the Bureau of Prisons, must standardize resources for the incarcerated at the national level (Department of Justice). Without standardized resources, it will be impossible for prisons to ensure that programs have been implemented properly. Furthermore, nonprofits focused on criminal justice reform must also assist with rehabilitation plans, as they can “help cut costs to taxpayers” (University of Oregon). Once partnerships have been established and resources have been standardized, programs to reduce juvenile recidivism will be much more successful.

To avoid returning to criminal activity, incarcerated young people need support systems both behind bars and outside. Truly effective rehabilitation programs will provide mental health support and life skills training both while juveniles are incarcerated and while they live in transitional “Residential Reentry Centers” (Department of Justice). When standardized rehabilitative support is provided to incarcerated juveniles at every step of their journey through the criminal justice system, a significant reduction in juvenile recidivism rates will occur, leading to lower crime rates and increased public safety. Reducing juvenile recidivism rates through effective rehabilitation does not only benefit the incarcerated; rather, a reduction benefits every member of the community, making it a worthy goal for any criminal justice reformer to pursue.

Works Cited

“Prison Reform: Reducing Recidivism By Strengthening The Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Department of Justice,

“Do We Know The Full Extent of Juvenile Recidivism?” MST Services,

“What Are Juvenile Recidivism Rates and How Can They Be Reduced?” Point Park University,

“What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?” American Psychological Association,

Staley, Michelle. “Follow-Up Study of a Sample of Offenders Who Earned High School Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs) While Incarcerated in DOCS.” Prison Policy Initiative,

Nuttall, John, et al. “Effect of Earning a GED on Recidivism Rates.” U.S. Department of Justice,

Office of Justice Programs,

“Government-Nonprofit Relationships.” University of Oregon,

Zuzek-Arden, Tina, and Boison, Greg. “Data Can Help Reduce Recidivism and Reform Criminal

Justice.” Boston Consulting Group,

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