Saving South Carolina’s Juvenile Justice System


A New York Times article yesterday examines the juvenile justice system in South Carolina which is facing cuts in funding due to the current fiscal crisis.

Excerpt from the story…

[W]hat South Carolina built over many years in eradicating its shameful past is being undermined by the deep economic recession. In the last year, the state has cut the financing for its juvenile justice system by one-fifth, forcing 285 layoffs and the closure of several facilities, including five group homes that focused on counseling.

And South Carolina is not the only state whose attempts at rehabilitative justice may be stymied by the fiscal chopping block.  Reports the Times:

Across the country, depleted coffers have prompted state and local officials to pare programs intended as alternatives to the mere incarceration of juvenile lawbreakers.

In Tennessee, state legislators voted last month to close a wilderness activity camp. In Louisiana, a boot camp aimed at deterring young people from crime has been shut down. In California, alternative facilities focused on counseling are threatened from San Jose to Sacramento.

For South Carolina, cuts are particularly unsettling given its history. For a dozen years ending in 2003, a federal judge supervised the department under the settlement of a class-action lawsuit arising from overcrowded prison conditions.

Since then, the system has stopped treating youthful offenders as hardened convicts, instead confronting them as social problems through new programs that attack the underlying causes of juvenile crime — like dysfunctional homes, drug abuse and difficulties in school.

So who is to blame for what will probably be the disastrous short-changing of South Carolina’s troubled youth?  The obvious answer is the current recession or quasi-depression.  But, surely, the crisis started somewhere; it’s not a headless beast that descended from the sky on some random afternoon.  To be sure, numerous causes have  been cited as the culprits, ranging from 9/11 to sub-prime mortgages to GM’s recent demise.  Most of these problems, I venture to guess, started at the top – that is, in some board room, committee hearing, etc. – which, unsurprisingly solicits little if any input from those at the bottom – in our case, the troubled youth who must now contend with a underfunded juvenile justice system.

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