Thursday, June 30, 2011

Teen Rehabilitation vs. Juvenile Justice

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Teen Rehabilitation vs. Juvenile Justice

The use of drugs by teenagers has led to a rapidly growing number of teenagers who are seriously addicted to anything from alcohol to heroin. As a consequence of their constant interaction with drugs, these teens eventually get caught using. When this happens, they are put into the juvenile penitentiary system. With each offense, more and more time is spent in county facilitated juvenile detention centers, otherwise known as correctional facilities or juvenile halls. The current approach to solving the drug abuse problem is punishing the user rather then fixing the problem. My personal experience has led me believe that drug addiction cannot be solved with punishment. I do believe, however, that there are programs that can help.

America has recognized that drug use is a serious problem, and in response our country has waged a war on drugs. The crack cocaine boom in the mid eighties resulted in a sharp increase in the number of teens involved with drugs. So, America began to “crack down” on teen drug users. Every year millions of dollars are spent in California alone to increase the efficiency of the juvenile justice system. With stricter punishments for repeated offenses, juvenile police officers at schools, and the constant building of bigger detention facilities, the war is taking place in the teen world just as much as in adult life.

However, with all the money and energy being put into punishing drug users, the results are not matching the efforts. In 00, the percentage rate of teens who repeated offenses after being released from juvenile detention centers was 50-70% (“Alternative Ways of Dealing with Juvenile Crime”, par. ). Some people believe that this means we should be building bigger detention centers and increasing punishment for repeat offenders. But, can punishment cure drug addiction?

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Once casual use turns into constant abuse, quitting is not easy. Even after the youth decides that they no longer want to use, quitting may not be possible without help. Some cannot stop, because quitting some drugs, like alcohol can kill you. Heroin withdrawals are so painful many cannot get through the first day. For others, quitting drugs is socially not acceptable, especially when gangs are involved. Every day teens overdose, get in car accidents, or die simply because their bodies are too run down from drug use. Addiction is a powerful disease and the effects on teens are severe.

I can only speak from personal experience when looking at how drug addiction is effected by punishment. From what I have seen, time in juvenile halls, or even in juvenile prisons, does not have very much of an impact on drug addiction. Most of my friends over the last five years have been serious drug addicts. Nearly all of these friends have spent time in juvenile hall. I have seen friend after friend go in just to come back out and return to the same drugs, the same parties, the same life. Some cannot make it through probation, and end up in prison. Those who can fake success until they get off probation are even worse off. Many of the girls I used to party with are pregnant or have kids. My whole group rarely goes a month without getting together. The thing is, it is not to party anymore. It is to go to funerals. There are a few of us who are free, alive, childless, and still use. I am most afraid for them, because every time I see them I fear that they will be next.

I myself am a serious drug addict. I have been addicted to everything except shooting heroin. I got arrested for the first time when I was 16. I was in and out of juvenile hall for months from then on. After the fourth time, I started to realize that I was really out of control and I needed help. Every time I went in I would swear that it was the last time and when I got out I would never use again, but every time I broke that promise to myself. Realizing that I had a problem made me use with a frenzy that started to slowly drive me insane. I lost my job, dropped out of school, and never went home. I acted out in such crazy ways that my friends began to wonder if I was bipolar or schizophrenic. I began to suffer from malnutrition and my teeth became loose. The punishment system was not helping me.

The last time I got arrested I was not released in the first few days. I went through painful withdrawals. I had suggested to my probation officer before that I might need to be placed in a rehabilitation program, and she had always responded that the county did not have the resources to send me. When I began to black out from withdrawals she wrote to the county and demanded that they place me into a rehabilitation program that could properly take care of me. They consented and I was shipped 00 mile away from home to an in-placement rehabilitation facility.

The program I went into probably saved my life, and I hated every minute I was there. After three months of my eighteen month sentence, I ran away. But three months of rigorous treatment had already taken effect. Drugs were too emotionally and physically draining after months of sobriety. My mind had been cleared long enough for me to remember what I wanted to do with my life. I spent a week trying to drown out the memory of the program with more drugs. It didn’t work. So I sobered up and went in search of more help. Since I had been gone from home, California had set up a program that provided me with counseling three times a week and group counseling sessions with other kids in my position. I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) meetings and got what they call a sponsor, which is someone to help you achieve sobriety and clarity. It was not easy. But with the help of all these programs simultaneously I would not be where I am today.

I am not the only one who has found help through one program or another. My NA groups are full of recovered addicts from all walks of life. In my teen groups, ten of us talk about what it is like for us to try to stay sober. We all slip up once in while, but for the most part we stay clean. Everyday, across the country, rehabilitation facilities release drug addicts to be healthy and productive members of society. My experiences have led me to believe that there are alternatives to penitentiaries that are actually effective in helping teens get back control over their lives and their addictions.

There are a limited amount of free programs, open to anyone with a drug problem. There are twelve step to sobriety programs called Narcotics Anonymous (NA) available in almost every city in America. These are groups where all addicts are welcome to share their “experience, strength, and hope” with other users, get advice, and listen to the experiences of others. They offer a book with 1 steps that others have taken to achieve recovery. In this program you are encouraged to find a sponsor to help you though the steps .Some people do not like these groups, while others find them very helpful. There is also Behavior Health Services in California, which offers free counseling to anyone for whom drugs are causing a problem in their life. An intake is done to make sure the clients problems are really cause by drugs, to weed out the people looking for free counseling. There are experimental programs throughout the country, but many of them fold because the public does not support them and state funds often go to juvenile penitentiaries.

Politicians are supporting the penitentiary system, offering millions of dollars to counties who promise to build bigger juvenile halls and enforce stricter punishment. Money that could be spent on creating better after school programs, more teen counselors, educating teens, and rehabilitating teenage drug addicts is being spent on hiring guards. “It was estimated in August 14 that the cost of jailing a juvenile in Los Angeles was $45,000 per year in contrast to $000 per year to put a youth through a year of intervention programs” (“Juvenile Detention Grows Up”). If the funding was redirected, more programs could be created and be accessible to teens.

Unfortunately, programs that work the most effectively are hard to get into and expensive. Live in rehabilitation centers are developed to combine a number of techniques used to help teens get off drugs. But the waiting lists are long and they generally accept people who are in the hospital or jail after drug overdoses first. The rehab center I went to charged my parent $,000 a month. It operated on a sliding scale and we paid less then a lot of parents. Many kids who really need these services simply do not have the money to pay for them. However, if a portion of the money being spent on improving juvenile halls was spent on funding programs to make them more economically effective, the prices could go down enough for them to be available to teens from all walks of life.

Teen drug addiction is dangerous to everyone in our society. Drugs are the cause of many robberies, violent acts, and suicides. If the drug problems of teens are corrected, other types of crime will go down also. Teen drug addiction turns into adult drug addiction. If the problem can be stopped before teens reach adult-hood, adult drug addiction and the problems it causes will go down too. We need to begin taking serious action, because without the outrageous drug abuse rates we could be a much healthier, happier society.

Works Cited

Alternative Ways of Dealing with Juvenile Crime (sidebar). Issues and Controversies,

November 00. 5 Apr.00 http//www. facts. com/ICOF /Search/ib70570.asp .

“Juvenile Detention Grows Up.” Africa 000 Media Group. 5 Apr. 00


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