Commentary: Lock up teen criminals?


By Jane Velez-Mitchell
May 5, 2009

Editor’s note: Jane Velez-Mitchell is host of the HLN show, “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell,” a topical event-driven show with a wide range of viewpoints. Velez-Mitchell is the author of “Secrets Can Be Murder: What America’s Most Sensational Crimes Tell Us About Ourselves.

NEW YORK (CNN) — Ten years ago, teen Daniel Giddings shot a man during an attempted robbery and was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.

During his time behind bars, Giddings racked up almost 30 disciplinary infractions, was kicked out of two separate facilities for bad behavior and reportedly spent hundreds of days in the hole because of his conduct.

After serving 10 years, Giddings was released last August. According to CNN affiliate WPVI, he allegedly assaulted several police officers days later. Then, in September, he allegedly killed a Philadelphia police officer before being fatally shot by another officer.

We see classic cases of repeat offenders like this all the time. A teen is thrown into the abyss of the corrections system and comes back out no better, if not worse. If we had the right intervention for troubled teens, could we reduce their chances of becoming repeat offenders?

The fact that we constantly have to ask that question tells me America needs to change the way it fights crime. As a nation, we’re very good at locking criminals up, yet we still remain one of the most violent and crime-ridden societies in the developed world.

According to the International Center for Prison Studies in London, England, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, with one in 100 adults behind bars. In fact, the United States accounts for less than five percent of the world’s population, but almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Considering how much time, energy and money we spend locking people up, you’d expect to see a bigger payoff. But in the United States there are about 16,000 homicides per year, or roughly six per 100,000 people, based on Department of Justice statistics. Compare that to Canada and Britain, which don’t even tally 1,000 homicides per year each.

Our current system is broken because it is too focused on tossing criminals behind bars and hoping they get the message instead of rehabilitating them. I’m not saying we need to stop punishing criminals. We just need to start peppering in prevention techniques and using creative solutions to identify red flags early.



Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.