Deciphering the Treatment-Punishment Dichotomy: A New Approach to the Study of Placement Outcomes for Juvenile Delinquents

Deborah Plechner, University of Minnesota Duluth

The number of youth ordered into residential placement has risen dramatically over the last two decades. This study attempts to understand why this increase is happening and what the consequences of placement are for young offenders. The foundation for this analysis is my experience as the evaluator of a Challenge Grant II program for "difficult-to-place" youth. Theoretically, the use of placements has been understood in light of the treatment-punishment contradiction thought to characterize the juvenile justice system. This analysis suggests other key factors shaping the use and evolution of residential placements. Empirically, this study examines the placement experiences and outcomes for 152 young offenders within one county. This examination also suggests a rethinking of the treatment-punishment dichotomy by highlighting how placement is both treatment and punishment at once. The conclusion is reached that the contradictory aspects of the placement experience for young offenders create a cycle of placement that leads to harsher sanctions. The use of placements is being driven by many factors beyond the needs of youth or the cycles of juvenile justice reform. These factors include the needs and constraints of juvenile justice agencies, growth in the placement industry, privatization, and generalized fear of young offenders.

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Updated 05/20/2006