Juveniles Stuck in the Justice System: How Can the Church Respond?

YFC JJM stands ready to equip, enable, and empower the local church to make a long-term impact for high-risk teens in local communities.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” This is the classic question to young, aspiring, and hope-filled teenagers.

However, for a high-risk young person this question feels foreign, perhaps even outrageous.

For these teens, their focus is on the next 24 hours. Surviving until tomorrow is often the extent of the Dream for high-risk young persons when all they can think to do is hustle to meet their most basic needs. They sell drugs to help a struggling mom pay rent, shoplift to provide dinner for hungry younger siblings. They simply have no capacity or inclination to think about longer term plans or dreams.

In this America, there are no positive adults, no horizon-expanding opportunities to see the world through a different vantage point. This isn’t Hollywood; there is no Morgan Freeman or Hillary Swank to swoop in and transform their difficult circumstances.

This is life in Survival Mode, until the system catches up with them.

This evening nearly 80,000 of these young people spent the night in a locked facility in the United States: 54,000 are in youth prisons or other out-of-home confinement; 20,000 in juvenile detention centers, 4,200 youth are in adult jails or county lock-ups; and 1,200 youth are in adult prisons serving a long-term sentence.

Most of these young people aren’t public threats nor have they committed violent crimes; however, in a punitive juvenile justice system, many times kids serve the time regardless of the crime. Without intentional intervention from caring, committed adults, the vast majority of teens will be re-incarcerated within two years of their initial release.

A Desperate Need of Positive Christian Relationships

Enter the Body of Christ.

Young people in the system believe …

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