Troubled teens need host of heroes

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Troubled teens need host of heroes

Park Kwan-il, a 41-year-old missionary, cares for orphans in Tanzania. He also grew up in an orphanage and was incarcerated in a juvenile detention center for picking pockets as a boy. But he was saved and reformed by a volunteer worker at the center, whose unconditional love inspired him with hope and led him to go to Africa — highlighting the power of love and compassion.

Juvenile detention centers can be a corner-stone in rehabilitating underage delinquents and offenders. Most inmates have committed several crimes before they are incarcerated. They have gone through police supervision and have been paroled before they arrive at reformatories. But if the facilities fail to do their job in helping reform their wards, many of the kids will con-tinue down this slippery slope of increased criminal activity.

As such, staff reporters of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC spent three days at a number of juve-nile detention centers to analyze their problems and concluded that their rehabilitation and edu-cational functions fall short of expectations due to a lack of staff and ineffective programs. They found that the centers are better run than parole supervision and welfare centers, that the facili-ties are comparable to private university dormitories, but that teachers there mostly serve to keep the young adults out of trouble. And most of the teens revert to their old lifestyles upon being released. To underscore the problem, the recidivist crime rate of inmates rose to 36 percent in 2010 from 26 percent in 2008.

Lee Hyun-gon, a judge at the Seoul Family Court, pointed out that nearly 90 percent of young offenders are from poor and broken fam-ilies. They require more protection from school authorities, and they need to feel that they are not outcasts who have been abandoned by soci-ety.

The Korea Juvenile Protection Association has recently been campaigning for vocational programs for juvenile delinquents. Under the auspices of new chief Lee Joong-myeong, it has teamed up with companies to provide training and vocational programs for young inmates. Lee Yoo-jin, a senior researcher at the Youth Policy Research Institute, noted that such rehabilitation efforts can be maximized if supported by outside experts and a greater involvement in so-ciety. The association also plans to build a kind of open university for delinquents and runa-ways. But one nonprofit organization cannot shoulder the burden alone. Community, busi-ness and social leaders must all chip in.

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