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Juvenile Justice

Each year approximately 100,000 young people exit formal custody of the juvenile justice system. These youth are often discharged back to families struggling with domestic violence, substance abuse, unresolved mental health disabilities, and poverty. Many are returned to neighborhoods with few supportive programs, high crime rates, and poorly performing schools. Lacking the necessary skills to cope with adult responsibilities when they are released, many youth face unemployment, school re-enrollment challenges, and homelessness upon release. Tragically, plans are rarely in place to support youth as they exit confinement and reintegrate back into their family, school, and community.

Juvenile Justice

The Juvenile Justice System and Homeless Teens

In the early 1970s, Congress held hearings on how best to help runaway and homeless youth, which resulted in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-415).

This act was created to provide federal funding to improve states' juvenile justice systems so that they could better serve at-risk youth. While the intention was to create a system that would rehabilitate young offenders to mold them into successful members of society, statistics show that the juvenile justice system has failed many homeless youth.

A staggering 80% of the young people who enter New York's juvenile facilities end up returning or being put into adult prisons within three years – a recidivism rate that is significantly higher than that in the adult criminal justice system. Similar failures in the system can be found in other major cities across the country.

The bottom line is that kids without role models can easily be lured into making bad choices simply so they can fit in with their peers. Some kids come from homes where illegal activity is being carried out by parents or guardians. For these at-risk youth, the juvenile justice system is a revolving door that often returns them to the environment where the problem began.

With concern over the current juvenile justice system growing, there is a new push to reform the system. Covenant House is at the center of this fight, advocating for improved services that provide better and more comprehensive treatment for at-risk youth.