Youthful offenders in the Colorado criminal justice system will always comprise a demographic that is singular and closely scrutinized by law enforcers and regulatory authorities.
And that is for this obvious and understandable reason: Juveniles facing legal challenges are just different from adult offenders.
Those differences are stark and feature in many ways. Many young people accused of criminal wrongdoing are mere adolescents. Charged offenders many times have not even reached their teen years. Many of them are still years away from being able to make informed decisions or act with due regard for the consequences.
In fact, juveniles appearing before judges sometimes don’t even perceive that their alleged wrongdoing was unlawful or that it was injurious to any third party.
Such realities centrally drive the criminal law truism that juvenile offenders in most cases should be dealt with in a rehabilitative rather than punitive manner. Charged conduct can often be responded to best by outcomes that stress alternatives to incarceration.
That is certainly the mindset generally operative across Colorado’s justice system. It is routinely underscored by justice principals, including the director of the state’s Division of Youth Services. Anders Jacobson cites ongoing efforts “to ensure that for youth who do not need to be in the deep-end-of-the-system places … we are finding different avenues.”
That assertion comforts many reform advocates, yet it also highlights the perception that some juveniles do need to be in comparatively harsh lock-up environments.
Spotlighting the Colorado Division of Youth Services
Here are some material facts linked with the DYS:
- Colorado’s youth correction system oversees a dozen facilities
- Colorado young people between the ages of 10 and 21 are detained in those facilities while pending trial and after being judicially committed
- An increasing number of violent offenders are being housed at those locales
- A clear – and spiking – majority of detained juveniles show a need for mental-health and substance-abuse treatment
- A recent count of detainees in division facilities totaled 375
A bit of silver lining concerning Colorado’s young offenders
Jacobson duly notes in his role as DYS director that “there is always going to be a certain population that needs our services.”
Although that is undoubtedly true, this upside point emerging from empirical data merits stressing: Statistics from an annual DYS report reveal that the number of youthful offenders locked up in Colorado correction facilities has progressively declined in recent years.
That is unquestionably positive news, and something to be celebrated.