The idea behind the criminal justice system as a whole is to rehabilitate criminal offenders, preventing them from reoffending in the future. Unfortunately, this is much easier in theory than in practice.
In fact, an enormous proportion of former offenders commit new offenses and end up right back in Colorado state prisons. This problem is known as recidivism and is complex.
The Colorado juvenile justice system has a unique opportunity to prevent recidivism by rehabilitating youths convicted of juvenile offenses and providing community resources to help guide the path of troubled youth, hopefully preventing a future life of crime.
Let’s take a look at the complex issue of recidivism, and the steps Colorado’s juvenile justice system is taking to address it earlier on.
Recidivism in Colorado
Unfortunately, Colorado has a recidivism rate of about 49.5%. This means that nearly half of all Colorado inmates who are released from prison return to prison within three years due to new crimes. This is higher than the national average of 43%.
The data suggests that once convicted, adult offenders are highly likely to return to a life of crime, prompting our state juvenile justice system to take steps to rehabilitate youths facing charges of juvenile offenses.
The hope is to provide Colorado’s at-risk youth the tools they need to make better decisions earlier than adulthood.
Risk Factors for Colorado Recidivism
The problem of recidivism primarily includes socioeconomic factors, and potentially, flaws within the justice system itself. Common explanations for recidivism include:
Criminal History Can Compromise Employment Opportunities
Former offenders are left with a criminal record that compromises employment prospects. This, combined with a lack of vocational skills, often compels offenders to return to a life of crime for financial reasons.
Incarceration Allows for Relationships within the Criminal Community
While incarcerated, inmates make contacts within the criminal community. For example, drug dealers to network with. Inmates must also often behave aggressively to defend their personal safety while incarcerated.
Root Issues Are Often Never Addressed
Incarceration does not address the issues that caused inmates to offend in the first place. In fact, incarceration makes some issues, such as mental health problems, substantially worse.
The Colorado Juvenile Justice System: Stopping Recidivism Before it Begins
The statistics surrounding recidivism can make a life of crime seem inevitable for many offenders. However, Colorado’s juvenile justice system has the unique chance to rehabilitate juvenile offenders, addressing the root causes of criminal behavior.
In all 50 states, the juvenile justice system is separate from the adult justice system, as these programs aim to rehabilitate offenders rather than take a punitive approach.
This is also based on the fact that adolescents’ brains are not fully developed. Juvenile offenders don’t have as much capacity to determine right from wrong and often exercise poor impulse control.
Colorado’s Rehabilitation Approach for Youth
The juvenile justice system takes the following approaches to rehabilitate juvenile offenders, preventing future criminality:
- Connecting youth with resources such as counseling to address underlying mental health problems that can contribute to criminality
- Engaging youths in the community through programs such as community service, helping youths to be more engaged and seek out positive support systems
- Addressing instability at home
- Instilling a sense of civic responsibility and pride, encouraging youths to contribute positively to their communities
- Allowing juvenile offenders to expunge their juvenile record for most crimes, encouraging successful education and employment
- Encouraging juvenile offenders to engage in extracurricular activities
The Colorado juvenile justice system has the unique opportunity to stop recidivism in its tracks by rehabilitating juvenile offenders and encouraging positive community engagement.
You as a parent can also prevent juvenile delinquency in your child by forming a strong connection and being proactive in encouraging positive behavior.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.