Attorney General Janet Reno and the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) are calling for an unprecedented national commitment of public and private resources, energy and commitment to reducing juvenile violence and juvenile victimization in our nation. OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent and Chronic Juvenile Offenders is the centerpiece of this effort.
OJJDP's strategy is a system-wide approach for dealing with serious, violent and chronic juvenile delinquency. It has two main components: prevention and intervention. Prevention and early intervention programs for first-time offenders are the most cost-effective strategies for deterring youths who are at risk of becoming serious, violent or chronic career criminals. The alternative--waiting until a juvenile must be incarcerated--is far too expensive: In its Dec. 13, 1993, issue, Business Week reported that the cost of incarcerating a juvenile is $20,000 to $30,000 per year, and imprisoning a 25-year-old for life costs $600,000 to $1 million.
The strategy's prevention component calls on communities to systematically assess their delinquency problem in relation to known risk factors and to set up programs to counteract them.
What can communities and the juvenile justice system do to prevent at-risk youths from developing into career criminals? Juvenile justice agencies and programs are one piece of a larger picture involving many other local agencies and programs that work with at-risk youths and their families. Comprehensive approaches to delinquency prevention and intervention require collaborative efforts between the juvenile justice system and other service providers such as health, mental health, child welfare and education systems. Linking these service providers at the program level must be an important component of every community's comprehensive plan.
The strategy's intervention component is based on the recognition that an effective model for handling delinquent offenders must combine accountability and sanctions with increasingly intensive treatment and rehabilitation programs.
The intervention component establishes a range of graduated sanctions that features both immediate interventions and intermediate sanctions, including extensive use of nonresidential community-based programs. Intermediate sanctions use both nonresidential and residential programs, including intensive supervision programs for both repeat and first-time violent offenders.