The System in the Juvenile Justice System


I am a psychologist who wholeheartedly supports your approach and philosophy. I am also part of a local community visioning process. Our juvenile justice system is working to introduce a “Balanced and Restorative Justice” initiative, which is a wonderful concept that aligns beautifully with your system. However, they have been approached by another project. Not surprisingly, many of those involved (probation officers, etc.) want to implement this other program as soon as possible.

However, as I reviewed its manual, I found that at its core it is about controlling kids through a one-size-fits-all “consequence” (taking away everything they want) and trying to censor and control everything the kids hear, see, wear, and do—simply another behavior-mod program.

Do you have, or do you know of any programs that focus on adolescents that are acting out in destructive/violent ways, “out-of-control” kids, that embrace a philosophy similar to yours? It would be especially helpful if they included a strong facilitator training and/or if they have been implemented in conjunction with juvenile justice systems in some way. I would be so grateful for any input you may have.


I know of no other program that is proactive, creates a DESIRE for change, and places total responsibility on the other person—rather than on the supervisor.

There are a few underlying, fundamental truths to my approach.

1. A person can be controlled—but only temporarily, and no one can control how another person thinks or WANTS to behave.

2. Although you can influence people, you cannot change them. People change themselves.

3. The least effective approach to influence a person is by using coercion.

4. Obedience does not create desire.

5. Two requirements are necessary for long-term change: (a) acknowledgment that a change is necessary and (b) ownership. Any IMPOSED punishment lacks the second requirement. This does not mean that expectations, standards, rules, and responsibilities are not necessary. Obviously, they are—but imposing the same punishment for all (one size fits all) (a) is not fair, (b) affects different people in different ways, and (c) is counterproductive to the objective of promoting long-term responsible behavior.

6. Cognition and emotions cannot be separated. One affects the other. Anything imposed—especially if it is related to punishment—puts the receiver in a victimhood mode and prompts ill feelings toward the enforcer. Good relationships are essential to prompt positive change. People do good when they feel good. One does not ordinarily do good when feeling bad. This is a prime reason that traditional, coercive approaches are not successful and the recidivism rate is so high.

Check into what the juvenile justice system is doing in Missouri. They are more aligned with my approach and are meeting with much greater success and at half the cost than other states.

The key to changing behavior is to project high expectations and then empower—rather than overpower. These young people need structure. They have rebelled against authority all their lives. The program being considered may work, as punishments may work, in the short term. However, these external and imposed approaches are not nearly so effective as internal and elicited approaches that CHANGE DESIRE so people WANT to be socially and individually responsible.

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