Detention centers struggle to fund reform programs
A 20-year-old man surnamed Nam was detained twice at a juvenile detention center for theft and assaulting a classmate when he was a high school student.
But while he was detained, he was able to find a program that he was interested in - a baking class. Nam participated in the class for six months then received his baker certificate.
“One day, I picture myself opening my own bakery shop,” Ahn told the JoongAng Ilbo.
“I was very eager to learn, not only because I wanted to receive the license, but the class was actually fun.”
Once Nam was discharged from the detention center, he got a job working at a bakery part time.
The issue of how juvenile offenders should be handled is contentious.
Some say the government should apply stricter punishments to prevent them from evolving into adult criminals. Others say the country should protect their human rights and provide better support programs.
Juvenile detention centers are responsible for both forcing juvenile offenders to confront their misdeeds as well as providing appropriate education to help them reform and adapt to a community when they are discharged.
However, not many people are willing to help these delinquents. The financial support from the government isn’t enough to manage them efficiently. The JoongAng Ilbo looked for ways juvenile detention centers could manage both tasks.
There are 10 juvenile detention centers in Korea, and they divide juveniles into two separate groups: general school education and vocational education.
In vocational training, juveniles are allowed to participate in baking, welding, heavy machinery operation and hair design.
“We’ve provided some programs, but it’s not easy to teach them because everyone can’t start the class at the same time,” Seong Woo-je of the Social Protection and Rehabilitation Division of the Ministry of Justice told the JoongAng Ilbo. “It’s not as good as a normal class in school, but we’re doing our best.”
The officials said that they need more teachers and workers to educate and manage the juvenile offenders, but they don’t have enough funding.
“Four supervisors have night duty every 10 days,” a 31-year-old teacher surnamed Kim at a detention center complained. “I think even doctors working in a big general hospital don’t have night duty that often. The government should improve working conditions.”
Experts suggest the government provide programs that can consistently help and monitor juveniles before and after they are released from detention centers.
“There is no other institution like detention centers that can intensively guide juvenile delinquents back onto the right path in a short period of time,” Lee Su-jeong, a professor at Kyonggi University, told the JoongAng Ilbo.
“We can’t just put delinquents into a detention center and demand teachers change juveniles into better people. They need persistent attention from adults just like other teenagers get from their parents.”
In advanced countries such as the U.S., they hold an intensive aftercare program for juvenile offenders. The program offers juveniles a chance to take a trip with a teacher a month before they get released to give them emotional support and help them resettle in their hometowns.
In Canada, local communities help juveniles, running counseling centers in almost every town, and schools dispatch their teachers to provide high-quality education for the discharged juveniles so they stay caught-up with normal students.
“Canada spends about 800,000 won [$707] per juvenile a day,” Kim Eun-kyung, a researcher at the Korean Institute of Criminology, told the JoongAng Ilbo.
“They spend this much money because they certainly know that the investment can prevent juveniles from committing second crimes or becoming adult criminals. And managing adult criminals is much more expensive than juvenile offenders.”
Lee Joong-myeong, chairman of the Korea Juvenile Protection Association who accompanied the JoongAng Ilbo reporters and experienced the juveniles’ lives in the center, said that more major corporations needed to provide resources.
“These delinquents have gone through some tough experiences,” Lee said. “I think those experiences can be a good ground to foster them as diligent workers if they receive quality education. People working in legal agencies should listen to them more carefully and recognize that they have a thirst for love from adults. Their golden age is just passing by while they spend very long and meaningless days in the center.”
By Lee Ki-hwan, Lee Ji-sang [firstname.lastname@example.org]