Relying on negative reinforcement and punishment to rehabilitate a troubled teen is not effective, writes retired juvenile court Judge William Hitchcock in a Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) op-ed. While teens should be held accountable for their offenses, courts should also help them get back on track and away from a life of crime. One way to do this is by building on their strengths.
Judge Hitchcock explains:
Despite the fact that the vast majority of offenders commit nonviolent property crimes, we still detain too many of these youth in the guise of managing misbehavior by consequences. Most of the disposition reports that I would read as a juvenile court judge contained only references to the negatives, rarely highlighting the assets that the young person may have.
Where is the other side of the coin? With rare exception, these youthful offenders have assets that can be built upon by an intentional approach to managing their probation. Yet most probation officers are not trained in strength-based planning.
Recognizing the role that courts can play in rehabilitating youth, Reclaiming Futures uses assessments to determine teens' needs and builds a plan around them. According to Judge Hitchcock: