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The Future of America?
A hungry boy stole food from a market, was caught, and his right hand was chopped off. The next week the same boy, stole fruit from an orchard, again was spotted, and his left hand was chopped off. A few weeks later, leaving the back door to a bakery open, his mouth full and eyes no less vibrant, the boy was caught once again. The men of the town were stumped, what was to be chopped off next? The men of the town did not know what to do, until someone offered giving the boy a job. The boy never stole again. As difficult as it may be to remain open-minded when addressing a situation, sometimes the alternative solutions are better than that of the extreme. Throughout American history, there is evidence of over-coming close mindedness. This evidence is seen in women’s voting rights and African American’s freedom. With the increasing youth violence present in America, we are once again given a task. This task, like that of Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights, is not going to have a simple solution. If the men in the story above had not come up with an alternative solution, what would be chopped off next? Arms? Feet? After reading about this topic and all its perspectives, I believe that severe punishment will always fail to deter youth crime. Rehabilitation and prevention, as difficult as they may be to accept, deserve attention.
Arguments have resulted from examining the increase of convicted youth criminals and the severity of crimes committed. The youth crime rate has reached a twenty year high, says Patricia Cohen in her article entitled, “Punishment.” Equally staggering she says, is the fact that
“from 1988-1991 the youth murder-arrest rate climbed 80 percent(518).” Terrible crimes committed by youth are sometimes as serious as those of their adult counterparts. As a result, the term ?youth’ is no longer synonymous with innocence. With this sudden “madness,” as coined by Males and Docuyanan in “Crackdown on Kids: Giving Up on the Young,” juveniles are being deferred into court at lower and lower ages(519). This can be seen in Wisconsin where ten-year-old children can be tried as adults for murder(519). Does imprisonment deter youth crime? Some people believe it is the only way to go, others disagree. Males and Docuyanan are among those who disagree, bringing up the point that, “If more prisons and surer sentences were the solutions to crime and delinquency, California should be a haven where citizens leave doors unlocked and stroll midnight streets unmenaced(521).” This is ironic because California having the third largest inmate system in the world, has failed to deter youth crime. Evidence for this is seen in California’s youth murder-arrest rate; it is one of the highest in the world(520).
The fact that poverty-level minorities comprise the majority of youth criminals, proves that imprisonment’s failure to deter crime is a consequent of poverty’s inability of being policed. Although time consuming and somewhat arduous, evaluating youth criminals cases for correlations can help us understand where the criminals are coming from socially and economically. One common denominator in many of the youth criminals case’s as mentioned above, is poverty. Evidence for this strong correlation discussed by Males and Docuyanan, is seen in the cities like Los Angeles where economic gaps are well pronounced. Los Angeles, home to 200,000 poverty stricken adolescents, had more teen murders reported, than the whole state of California(520). Along with poverty, another similarity in these cases is that of race. African American and Hispanic youth account for six out of seven juvenile arrests(520). When these strong correlations are presented, the focus moves from the youth criminal as an individal
to youth criminals as a poverty-level minority. Society’s obligations are being questioned here as part of our socity is seen to be struggling to survive.
Although some victims of youth crime want to see the criminal held completely accountable for their actions, other victims recognize this issue as a wide spread problem, and would like to see it addressed. Deborah Dickerson in “Who Shot Johnny?,” described how her nephew was shot for no apparent reason by a youth criminal. The confusion, anger and feeling of loss that this family went through was devastating. I know my first impulse would be that of revenge, or some kind of immediate need for compensation. To endure an experience as horrific as a wounded family member as a result of violence, regardless of whether or not it was a youth who committed the crime is incomprehensible. Although the very nature of the crime is hard to over-look, Debra Dickerson recognizes that her nephew and his family are only one of thousands of victims of youth violence. It is difficult after hearing of these malicious accounts of crime to continue arguing that youth criminals do not deserve serious punishment. However, looking long term into a world where the same troubled youth will comprise the voting public, preventative measures are imperative.
While rehabilitation and punishment are ways of dealing with a youth criminal after an offence has been committed, prevention rather than fear-tactics are ways to address youth violence long-term. In his article entitled, “Peace in the Streets, ” Geoffrey Canada speaks of a community that is not safe for children(527). This community like many all across America is “filled with fear and apprehension.” To combat the fear and apprehension plaguing our countries youth, Canada cites pro-active programs that include ideas of how to reduce the demand for drugs, reduce violence in the home, and reduce violence on television(528-531). Along with those just mentioned, a type of peace corps, made up of caring people aimed at
mediating disputes and preventing crime is also an option(528). These programs will have a difficult start if the government does not assist. Are these programs necessary in fighting youth criminals? Canada thinks so. “Either we address the murder and mayhem in our country or we simply won’t be able to continue to have the kind of democratic society that we as Americans are used to(528).”
Although some programs offered to address youth violence depend greatly on government assistance, other programs introduced by some school systems are already in practice. While looking for answers to increasing gang-activity in a school in Texas, Tina Juarez, author of “Where Home Boys Feel at Home,” implemented programs to distract youth from violence and poverty. These programs were a series of clubs, sporting activities, and fine arts, focusing on individual talents. To help with these programs, members of the community were introduced into the classroom. This proved especially helpful for those students that have little or no chance to interact with adults, other than those in the immediate family. In an environment such as this, where the children could recognize their talents and “succeed in the eyes of others(490),” the students did not realize they were being indirectly steered away from violent tendencies. As a result of this program, this school saw truancy rates drop down significantly, and gang activity disappeared(489).
With the United States having one of the highest youth crime rates in the world, it is difficult to claim that youth crimes are not a problem of our society. What is clearly evident throughout this issue is that society has a hard time accepting the fact that it plays a role in shaping its youth. If poverty is a common denominator in many of these youth crimes, then alternative ways of addressing this situation are needed. Although I sympathize with
Dickerson’s devastation as a victim of youth violence, I also realize she is only one of thousands.
“An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth, so that all the world will be blind and toothless.” ~Fiddler on the Roof. These youth criminals should be given the ability to leave behind the weight of the hypothetical axe that continues to chop. The appendages should be replaced, not with a quick fix of duct tape, but with the stitches that rehabilitate both inside and out. Prevention if assisted by the government, would prove extremely useful. The healing process required to fight the problem of youth crime will take time and effort. Like Women’s Suffrage and The Civil Rights Movement, the answers to the questions of what should done with youth criminals, will be found within open mindedness, time, and effort.
Canada, Geoffrey. “Peace In The Streets.” Utne Reader July/August 1995: 59-61 Rpt. in Perspectives on Argument. Nancy V. Wood. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. 527-31.
Cohen, Patricia. “Punishment.” George June/July 1996: 99. Rpt. in Perspectives on Argument. Nancy V. Wood. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice
Hall, 1998. 517-18.
Dickerson, Deborah. “Who Shot Johnny?” The New Republic 1 January 1996: 17-18. Rpt. in Perspectives on Argument. Nancy V. Wood. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. 523-26.
Juarez, Tina. “Where Homeboys Feel At Home In School.”Educational Leadership 1996: 30-32 Rpt. in Perspectives on Argument. Nancy V. Wood. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. 486-90.
Males, Mike and Docuyanan, Faye. “Crackdown On Kids: Giving up on the Young.” The Progressive. February 1996: 24-26. Rpt. in Perspectives on Argument. Nancy V. Wood. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. 518-523.
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