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Juvenile justice in Arkansas: material change on the horizon?

| Jan 6, 2018 | Firm News

A recent in-depth article on youth crime and rehabilitation published by a national organization tracking juvenile justice issues notes an “emerging consensus.”

And that is this, states the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: Incarceration as a preferred strategy to deal with youthful offenders is generally far more harmful than beneficial on both an individual and larger societal level.

It is, notes the exchange, “usually a counterproductive and overly expensive response to delinquency.”

Criminal justice officials across the country know that both anecdotally and from strong empirical evidence.

And they have acted upon it. The above-cited article notes efforts in states closely surrounding Arkansas (e.g., Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma), which have all reportedly reduced juvenile lock-up rates by more than 10% over the past two decades.

Arkansas, too, has made strides over that period, but lags in the performance achieved by its neighbors.

And that has a number of people closely linked with the state’s criminal justice system pushing to do better.

One of them is the director of Arkansas’ Division of Youth Services, Betty Guhman. Some commentators believe that she is willing and capable of driving big changes concerning juvenile law rules and standards going forward.

Her rhetoric implies that. She says that “the whole juvenile code needs to be revisited” and that there is a majority consensus “supportive of a complete rewrite.”

How that will look, and when it will be implemented, is presently unclear. Some justice system insiders point to past reform efforts as owing mostly to initiatives driven at local levels. They say that overall reform is uneven across the state as a result and that future efforts will need more of a top-down emphasis.

They hope that Guhman and state legislators can supply the vision to get that accomplished.

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