Our juvenile justice system began to take shape during a time of massive immigration and rapid growth of urban areas. Poverty, lack of supervision, and deplorable living conditions were seen as conditions that fostered delinquency. As the system evolved and as children of color continued to grow, unfortunately, a more punitive philosophy developed. Although behavioral health and social welfare advocacy helped to produce rehabilitative programs and strategies, the competition and struggle between punitive and rehabilitative ensued. The most significant change took place when neuroscience was introduced and the concepts of adolescent development and brain development merged. Neuroscience produced a set of scientific findings less vulnerable to the implementation of punishment techniques and responses. Armed with the knowledge of how the adolescent brain develops and how environmental conditions and events interact, we are better equipped to facilitate healthy development in all youth entering the system. Our greatest challenges are to create a system that reduces instead of increases stress among youth who have already experienced significant trauma, increases community safety outcomes and builds supportive relationships between staff and youth as well as among all staff members.
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