Laura Abrams, associate professor of social welfare at UCLA, appeared as a guest on the Howard Gluss radio show (August 14, 2009) to discuss the barriers to successful reentry to society for juveniles in the incarceration system. Abrams is the director of the juvenile justice and reentry project, a program of the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA School of Public Affairs that fosters the reintegration of juvenile offenders into the community upon their release. The following are excerpts from the interview.
What are the major challenges that we face as a society for stopping young people entering the prison system?
“One of the things that it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around when we talk about juvenile offenders is that they are young people…and the majority haven’t committed violent crimes. They’re young people who deserve the opportunity to have a different pathway in their lives.”
“As a community, we think more about the punitive aspect of corrections and juvenile justice and not so much what happens when they return to society and when they transition to adulthood…When youth are get out of settings of incarceration, they’re often in a place where they don’t have school credits, or haven’t graduated from high school, they don’t have job skills, some don’t have families to return to. So they enter that already difficult transitional period of emerging adulthood without many skills or resources necessary to be successful.”
“Research has identified practices in the juvenile justice system that give youth a chance at better outcomes:
- Diversion, or keeping low-risk offenders out of incarceration (through home arrest or probation);
- Smaller settings, rather than large institutional settings;
- Longer treatment duration than (6 months rather than 2 months);
- Staff trained in therapeutic practices like cognitive behavioral work and family work; and
- Addressing underlying problems such as substance abuse, mental health issues and learning disabilities.”