Troubled Youth…and an Old Typewriter

UnderwoodA century ago the Underwood typewriter was high technology. It was the latest, the best, the “must have” device for anyone in the business of communicating.  Talk to the average kid today and most have never even seen an actual typewriter—and they certainly haven’t used one. The typewriter for them is a relic of a long ago past.

Our methods of communications have advanced at break neck speeds; our social policies concerning troubled youth have not. By comparison, over the years we have crawled toward more effective and humane policies; and our slow pace has cost us lives that could’ve been saved. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the U.S. still leads “the industrialized world in the rate at which we lock up young people.”

“In every year for which data are available, the overwhelming majority of confined youth are held for nonviolent offenses. In 2010, only one of every four confined youth was locked up based on a Violent Crime Index offense (homicide, aggravated assault, robbery or sexual assault).”

“40% OF JUVENILE COMMITMENTS AND DETENTION ARE DUE TO technical violations of probation, drug possession, low-level property offenses, public order offenses and status offenses (activities that would not be considered crimes as adults, such as possession of alcohol and truancy). This means most youth are confined on the basis of offenses that are not clear threats to public safety.”

Since 1995 the overall picture has started to improve. From a peak in 1995, the rate of youth in confinement dropped by 41% in 2010.  But we still have a long way to go. Huge disparities exist between the confinement rates of youth of color in comparison to their white peers. The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports:

“African-American youth are nearly five times as likely to be confined as their white peers. Latino and American Indian youth are between two and three times as likely to be confined. The disparities in youth confinement rates reflect a system that treats youth of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, more punitively than similar white youth.”

Imagine what would happen if we as a nation addressed the problems of youth with the same creativity, innovation, resources, interest and drive that took us from the Underwood typewriter to the iPhone. How would our policies look? What would our youth confinement rate be then?