Author: Matt Debnam
Should youthful mistakes forever alter a person’s chances of living a successful and productive life?
It’s a deceptively simple question, but the answer is complicated.
When a juvenile becomes involved with the criminal justice system, their life fundamentally changes. Familiar routines, people and places are replaced by court dates, adjudication and a general disruption to life as they know it. In some cases, the court might decide that committing the juvenile to a youth development center or a residential program is the best course of action. Other youth might remain in their community while participating in court-mandated programs or other diversionary measures.
Regardless of their charges or court disposition, the goal of the juvenile justice system is to help these young people do better, and that means providing the tools and services each youth needs to fully return to the community.
“We hope to support juveniles in their process of moving through this justice-involved state that they’re in,” said Nicole Sullivan, JJDP Director of Reentry Services. “Whatever reason they’re in contact with the juvenile justice system, we want to see them complete that, move past it and move forward in their lives in the direction they want to go. Reentry is that whole process.”
Youth who become justice-involved face barriers to returning to normal life. For older youth especially, such as the 16- and 17-year-olds in the division’s care, these challenges are similar to the issues adults face when returning from incarceration – from finding positive, supportive relationships to obtaining housing, employment, transportation and health care.
“Reentry is about education, physical health, mental health, substance abuse, vocational training, interpersonal and family relationships.” Sullivan explained. “It’s all of those pieces of their lives that this juvenile justice system has impacted in one way or another. We want to see them move past that successfully, in a positive way.”
Whether a juvenile spends time in a YDC or another program as an alternative to commitment, recidivism, or the lack thereof, is the ultimate measure of success. Once this young person has completed their involvement with the juvenile justice system, will they go on to live healthy, productive lives, or will they reoffend, possibly returning to the criminal justice system as an adult?
“We don’t want them to experience deeper involvement with the criminal justice system and ultimately see them become adult offenders,” Sullivan said. “We want to stop that cycle and support them coming out of justice-involvement. To me, it’s a process. Reentry is not just one thing that we do. It’s multiple things and they need to be coordinated and collaborative to support people.”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed April as Second Chance Month. At the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, this month is a time to raise awareness of the collateral consequences of youth involvement with the criminal justice system. It’s also a time to reflect on the ways we can help justice-involved youth overcome past mistakes to live successful lives. Join us throughout the month as we explore topics related to second chances in North Carolina's juvenile justice system.