juvenile justice
homefour casesfrom both sidesfacts & stats
photo of a prison door closingdiscussion: What are your thoughts about this report? Do you think that the justice system is biased?�

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have worked in a juvenile correctional facility for 22 yrs. Discussion should not center around what to do with offenders after they have committed crimes, but rather what can be done to reduce the risk of them being involved in crime to start with. Of the 314 youth who entered our facility during the first 9 months of the 2000 calendar year: 281 of them 89.5% had a history of school suspensions/expulsions, while only 27 of 314 youth 8.6% had school records indicating they attended school on a regular basis. Of those 314 youth, at time of admission, 1/4 had reading levels below 3.9 grade level and 1/2 had reading levels 4.9 grade levels or lower. Policies such as in school suspensions need to be put in place rather than expulsions and out of school suspensions. First youth stop going to school; second they start abusing alchohol/chemicals; third they start breaking the law.

Recent educational initiatives such as "high stakes testing" will just encourage youth to drop out of school at earlier ages and increased rates. Policy is frequently made based upon what sounds good, rather than what is effective. More effort needs to be spent on establishing policies that reduce the risk that youth will commit their first offense, rather than trying to "fix" them after it has already taken place.

Richard Nicolai
Oconomowoc, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

I thought that this presentation of a complex issue within the one hour time frame was outstanding.

However, having worked as a clinical social worker doing counseling and treatment of multi-problem families, and having also worked for two years in the mental health clinic of a district court, I feel that the viewer does not have enough information about these four youths and their families, ie enough of the psych-social background information, to judge what would be the risk of each adolescent to society. I felt that the presentation of Sean's family and personal background was so superficial that I didn't have any idea of the context of the violent attack on his father. If s/he is honest about it, the viewer has to admit that these vignettes are only a summary but not an assessment of each case.

I am also a certified English teacher, and after practicing clinical social work in psychiatric hospitals and clinics for several years, I became a high school English teacher. I taught in an upper middle class white suburb. I was not prepared for the fact that most students, when asked, spoke passionately about how all "criminals" deserve to be in jail for a long time, that they didn't "have" to commit the crime, etc. They were not interested in looking at the circumstances of the lives of the criminals or at whether they could be helped. This, to me, is an outrage.

Martha Waltien

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching this disturbing story, I felt angry, cynical, and deep sadness about the path these children have taken. How is it that the most prosperous nation in the world has failed so miserably at creating safe communities where children can thrive?The problems seem so deep and complex, from horrendous parenting skills to a society that is sick with the disease of selling our children out. There are so many victims here, and it seems that we as a society are confined in our own prisons of our own crimes. The crime of not saving OUR kids.

Cristina Garza
San Antonio, Tx.

Dear FRONTLINE,

By the end of your program, it seemed clear to me that two of the four young people had demonstrated that they are sociopaths with little or no ethical foundation outside of concern for their own immediate needs. But the others Marquese and Jose showed deep love for parents who largely failed them. It is this group of kids that responsible adults need to find and nurture until they can become strong and independent enough to understand that they are of value, regardless of their parents' destructive self-involvement.

Bradley Brookshire
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

I firmly believe that any juvenile that commits a felony should be "chipped" as any dog should be. I believe that once a criminal always a criminal. The public safety should be paramount over any "poor little waif" that is misunderstood. Enough is enough, A child would have to live in a cave to not know that crime is not to be tolerated.

Julie G Fruge
Lake Charles, LA

Dear FRONTLINE,

In the late 60's, I was charged with several crimes in the California criminal courts. I was a teen, deemed an adult, very immature and unable to handle life at all. I was exploited by a man twice my age and introduced to drugs and prostitution. I thought it was true love. My parents had long since given up on me. They allowed the courts to decide my fate. I served 6 months in county jail, after several smaller sentences in city jail San Francisco. I was further exploited by much wiser and street smart people than me. Today, all these years later, I still suffer from the effects of that short period of incarceration. I have fears and phobias that no person should have to live with. I was thrown to a system, that seems not to have changed much from when I was its victim. Children are victims and will continue to be victims until this society begins to see the value of these children. They are this society's future. They are not just someone's whipping post. They must be loved, nurtured, honoured and treated gently. This society reaps exactly what it sows.

melannie marshall
ottawa, ontario canada

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched the program and found it to be very interesting, but in all that was discussed about rehabilitation, there was no mention of spiritual rehab. I myself am a mentor and volunteer at the essex cty juvenille detention center in Newark NJ, and we have seen the greatest results with the detainees when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ and His grace. The director Joe Clark has opened the jail to many community churches, and various religious groups to allow us to work directly with the detainees and the justice system hand in hand to offer the best solutions for rehabilitation. To me, this is the key in helping the youth. Many of them have nothing or no one to believe in or look to as examples, and instilling in them faith and the belief that there is a greater source of help than they alone have, makes a real difference. I would like to see a program showing this aspect of working with the youth also. The youth of today are all of our children, and we need to look at them as such and do for them as we would our very own children. It is a barren soul that can act out in hate, and rage, and violence. If we as a society want to see change, then we must reach out to them, and pray for these youth!

mindy smyth
montclair, nj

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched the program and found it to be very interesting, but in all that was discussed about rehabilitation, there was no mention of spiritual rehab. I myself am a mentor and volunteer at the essex cty juvenille detention center in newark NJ, and we have seen the greatest results with the detainees when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ and His grace. The director Joe Clark has opened the jail to many community churches, and various religious groups to allow us to work directly with the detainees and the justice system hand in hand to offer the best solutions for rehabilitation. To me, this is the key in helping the youth. Many of them have nothing or noone to believe in or look to as examples, and instilling in them faith and the belief that there is a greater source of help than they alone have, makes a real difference. I would like to see a program showing this aspect of working with the youth also. The youth of today are all of our children, and we need to look at them as such and do for them as we would our very own children. It is a barren soul that can act out in hate, and rage, and violence. If we as a society want to see change, then we must reach out to them, and pray for these youth! Thank You Mindy Smyth

mindy smyth
montclair, nj

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think the frontline report was excellent, but it broke my heart to see how difficult it is for kids like this. There is no doubt about two things, enviroment and drug use are creating this situation and ruining these kids lives and those who are their victims. It is a shame to put them into the adult system where they will be attacked and lose hope and become worse. I found Jose's story and Marquese the most hopeful, but they both face such difficulties that they cannot control. They still must deal with their families problems and the area they live in. There is so much against them. I wish we would take these kids away from all this bad stuff and give them a good life in small homes that are run by good people who want to help them. They would have a chance then. I think the biggest problem is we put the rights of bad parents over the rights of their innocent children. We should remove children from these homes and not put them in other horrible, dysfuctional homes, but well run places. We have created this situation through our insensitivity to children and their needs. I pray our society will begin to recognize that this is the responsibility of all citizens, if we make children in each community a priority, our entire nation will benefit. thankyou!

Mary Williams
St. Charles, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think this was well done and interesting. I think one of the reasons you have so many juveniles becoming repeat offenders is that when they got to court the first time for something minor, they are nervous going in, get virtually no punishment, and walk out saying "that wasn't so bad". As an educator, I have seen kids go to court 4,5,6, and more times being told by judges and probation officers that the next time bring yor bag because your going away, and they don't follow through. Maybe if it was mandatory for kids to go to prison for at least 7 days the first time they go to court, no matter how minor the offense, maybe they would get a taste of what life will become if they go down the wrong path. When did "scared straight" become "no consequence crooked"?

Kurt Andress
Ballston Spa, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

As I sat back and watched this report, I saw myself in those kids. The one I saw myself most in was Shawn. I came from an affluent family, but the "anger" that i had built up inside me drove me to do stupid stuff as a kid. I ended up in juvinile hall here in Houston, and was sent to Military school thanks to my father being a lawyer. Later on in my life I left home, thinking I was a "grown man" and started using drugs, and eventually started stealing cars. That landed me in prison for 5 years. Now I am a free man, and pray that those kids find direction before it's too late for them.

Brian Wagner
Houston, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched the show this evening about these juvenille offenders. As a young adult myself I believe that certain crimes should be tried at any age like an adult. The crimes of rape, or murder are very horrible ones, and anyone who could do such things needs to be contained. The juvenille systems obviously are not working for many, or most of the offenders. This is apparent through their repeat offenses. Maybe there could be a change in the way the program is run, otherwise I believe people who do these crimes need to be put with adults so they will be aware of what is in store for their actions. I know friends that have had bad lives, that does not excuse anyone to break the law. In closing I hope that something can be done to help these juvenilles, and also keep America safe.

Tina Wagner

Dear FRONTLINE,

The most difficult thing we are going to have to do , with, for instance, Marquese: His mother should have lost custody the first trip through they system. As important as the first six years are, the topsy-turvy world of the children of drugs, with the child trying to care for the parent, creating the problems through generations as in his case from grandfather to grandson: this may be the only answer.

michael cahill
cameron, Texas



manny · shawn · marquese · jose
from both sides of the bench · facts & stats · related report: little criminals
discussion · synopsis · press · tapes & transcripts · credits
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS