When discussing issues of juvenile justice it is important to realize that what really must be addressed are the root causes of the behavior. Juvenile offenders often experience abuse at home, suffer from addictive behaviors, or experience a lack of adequate education among other factors.
The outcome is the important thing – lower crime in our communities and a better future for our kids. Incarceration has been proven to be ineffective at either.
One group in Sonoma County, CA is doing their best to address the root factors of the problem in an attempt to stop these problems before they destroy lives. The group is called Sonoma Upstream: Upstream Investments, and they describe themselves as follows on their website:
The seeds of intractable problems (like crime, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and child abuse or domestic violence) often occur early in life. The costs of addressing these problems once they manifest themselves downstream is staggering, and may include criminal justice costs, public aid, increased educational services, substance abuse services, and many other local services—not to mention the lost tax base and lost productivity caused by these obstacles to employment. In addition to this financial burden, the devastating societal costs are well documented and impact us all.
Rather than spending limited resources to repair difficult societal problems after they occur, upstream investments strategically target the factors that lead to those problems, intervening early with outcome-based programs and policies to reduce the occurrence of these problems before they require more drastic (and expensive) services.
Their objectives, while limited to Sonoma County, are both laudable and supported by current research. Their objectives for the present include the elimination of poverty, equal opportunity, quality education, and communities that are both healthy and nurturing for all. The end result of these objectives is that county residents will “benefit from prevention-focused policies and interventions that increase equality and reduce monetary and societal costs.”
This can easily seem like “pie in the sky” to some, but the fundamental practicality of their approach is keenly illustrated in a downloadable pdf that illustrates in detail exactly how they wish to achieve each objective. From the precisely targeted factors and detailed interventions to address each one to the indicators for success that will be used to measure progress.
If you’re in Sonoma County you should get familiar with them, and if you’re from elsewhere they can give you some great ideas on how to work toward these goals within your own community.