As our society continues to grow, so does the amount of youths who become involved in the Juvenile Justice System. It has become something that Americans are all too familiar with. Youth involved with the juvenile justice system often have substance abuse problems along with many other problems that include: mental health disorders, gang affiliation, poverty and much more.
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We know that while experimenting with drugs and alcohol could be a rite of passage from adolescence into early adulthood, it also could be a start of a path more and more teens are experiencing today (Broderick, 2012). The media tends to often cover news about all the negative things the youth are doing instead of focusing on how our society and the criminal justice system could work with youth to decrease recidivism and increase rehabilitation. This paper will cover the following topics: issues with the criminal justice system, why it has become a social justice issue, implications for micro, mezzo, macro practice, and reflections on my thoughts and feelings about this issue.
Substance use disorder among Americas’ youth are national problem with tremendous consequences. It appears our society focuses more on the consequences than treatment but as time continues to pass and statistics show that treatment for youth outweigh the benefits than locking up a child in jail. Recidivism is a big problem that we face with our trouble youth. Recidivism is primarily known as when one person convicted of a criminal act get release from jail and then reoffends. We all know that high recidivism rate would mean more youths being placed in the juvenile justice system until they reach the age of 19. By everyone coming together, we could develop more programs that would help reduce the recidivism rate. This would have to mean instead of building or opening more correctional facilities, we focus our attention on facilities that handle substance abuse and/or co-occurring disorders. This could be anything from a youth with a diagnosis of conduct disorder that suffers from alcohol abuse to a youth who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that copes with this by using marijuana. What makes this a social justice issue is because it takes money, time, parents, counselors, and the state to all come together as a team and figure around the cost of opening these facilities and running them. Another social justice issue is that the correctional facilities are becoming more and more overcrowded which in turn, takes away from actual treatment that the youth may need to receive because they are spending most of the time trying to watch the youth in the facilities. On average, 23.5 million people over 12 need treatment for drug or alcohol abuse each year (NIDA, 2018). Studies have shown that treatment reduces drug-related crimes about 15 times more than incarceration. In 2005, a study of arrests that underwent drug treatment showed that 52% of those who did not enter treatment were rearrested but only 22% of those who completed treatment were rearrested (NIDA,2018).
When you become a social worker, you usually tend to divide your practice into three various categories: Macro, Mezzo, and Micro. Macro level social work is interventions provided on a large scale that affect the entire community and system of care (Erreger, 2014). To start at the Macro level is to decrease the recidivism rate among our youth. We could lobby within our court systems to allow the youth to enter a treatment center instead of sentencing them to several months in the juvenile justice department. I know sometimes this requires money that families do not have. If we could educate our communities about the different organization like The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this could help us to lobby and provide data on why treatment is better than jail. Mezzo works on an intermediate scale, involving neighborhoods, institutions or other smaller groups (Erreger, 2014). If we want to make a difference on a Mezzo level then we could include our community with free workshops and training that provide information on teens and substance abuse. Our book talks about development of the Recovery Community Centers where the healing takes place within the community over a long-term period (Davis & Wormer, 2018). Micro social work is the most widespread practice and it happens directly with the individual client and/or family (Erreger, 2014). As with everything else, it is always best to try and start at the source of the problem. In this case, this would be with the actual youth and their family. As a social worker, we could help them find an appropriate social service that includes counseling. Youths tend to use some sort of substance because it is easier than dealing with the problem. By providing counseling, we can help reduce the number of youths returning to jail and help them to deal with problems that he/she might be facing that caused them to fall into the world of substance use. A good example of this would be
As a correctional officer and working in the Criminal Justice System for several years now, my thoughts have not changed about our youth when it comes to substance abuse. I believe we need to start working together as a community and to teach our kids about addiction at an early age. I also believe that being proactive instead of reactive is always the best solution and that we should start with the family system approach. Social workers use this system to work with the whole family because of the view that the illness is in the family dynamics (Davis & Wormer, 2018). Now, I am not saying youth use drugs or alcohol because of family but I do believe that family and the environment plays a significant factor in a youth developing a substance. Also, I agree our youth tend to go within the juvenile system before treatment for many assorted reasons that include but not limited to: lack of money, skills, and language to negotiate the treatment systems; illegal status; negative experiences; cultural or religious beliefs that conflict with mainstream treatment centers; and fear of bringing shame to family and friends (Davis & Wormer, 2018). Working with the juvenile correctional facility, I see these barriers day in and day out. For example, I know several Hispanics whose family members are illegal immigrants in the United States and therefore when their children went to court they had no support which then led them to Mart, Texas. I have also seen many African American youth who report that they are in jail because they had to step up and be the man of the house and support the family and by selling drugs, allowed them to support their family. I could go on and on with examples of why I feel that the system is failing and by placing our future in jail instead of treatment centers where they could change their life does not seem to be a hard task to accomplish if the necessary support was available.
Our youth in the criminal justice system have distinct needs that could either make them re-offend or become productive society members. Treating substance use disorders among juvenile offenders is complicated because of those many distinct needs (Chassin, 2008). In order for the scale to play in our favor of our youth becoming productive then we need to start all the way at the bottom of the level (Micro) to the top (Macro). Since the justice system is the largest referral source for adolescent’s substance users, the court system must have a clean understanding of substance use, abuse, and dependence, the consequences of substance disorders, along with the latest research as to how to effectively deal with these issues (Broderick, 2012). The focus of this paper was to expand our knowledge on the data surrounding our youth and the criminal justice system with a substance problem to try instead of just focusing on punishment and jail. Areas like prevention, identification and treatment would reduce the amount of youth in the criminal justice system substantially.
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