There's a popular picture on facebook, I've seen it a few times, of a dog, a Pit Bull maybe, and a caption something like, 'there are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners.' People tend to agree with the sentiment and 'like' it.
What if it was, 'there are no bad boys, just bad parents'? That one not so much, right?
Why, exactly? Because boys can make conscious, willful decisions, right? And dogs can't?
OK, true. But still. Parenting is a crucial element of character-building, right? And if a boy gets extremely poor parenting, how much more likely is it that he will become well-acquainted with the criminal justice system?
So what am I saying? Well, two things. What we do with those boys as they become a problem is critically important, not just for them (cuz it's 'their own fault, right? so too bad), but for society.
And it is in society's best interest to try to reduce (toward zero) the population of these boys. First, by reducing/eliminating unwanted pregnancies. Then by intervening early in these boys' lives, which is a giant can of worms on libertarian grounds so the first part is critical.
In my opinion we could even waste money at the front end (though let's not) as long as we accomplish our objective of keeping the number of 'bad boys' to near zero. Compared to if we do nothing at the front end and refuse to commit any resources to the issue until there's a criminal justice problem.
So, we incorporate into the public school curriculum (state participation to be encouraged with funding), 'adult ed' classes. Starting about sixth grade. Keep them age-appropriate, of course. Though by sixth grade they need to know for sure where babies come from, and how you can get pregnant even if you aren't trying to. And stuff. And sixth grade is a good time to be hearing a strong abstinence message. But we have to be realistic about all possibilities too, so birth control information needs to be available.
Of course there's a lot more to cover in adult ed class than where babies come from. Various scenarios should be 'gamed,' so kids can start to learn 'first hand' what usually happens to the guy who doesn't finish high school, or guys that smoke and drink at an early age, or guys that figure they shouldn't have to work, or guys that become daddies at a young age, (and girls too, of course).
I would love to see after school programs fully funded so all kids have safe and constructive places to go after school. In fact, the logical extension of the idea that society should feel ultimately responsible for child development would be to offer 'after school' programs 24/7. But this would become very expensive, no matter how much we think we'll save not waiting until we're using the d.o.j. to finally deal with it. So the emphasis on 'adult ed' and reducing/eliminating unwanted pregnancies is paramount.
Once we do find the need to incarcerate, at a greatly reduced rate if we're smart enough, we start on them again, for the first time maybe in some cases. Adult ed, academic classes, substance abuse counseling, whatever is needed. Only this time they're locked in. And we have the key. And the sentences work for us. "You can do the whole ten, or you could probably be out in three if you do everything we ask ... "
Will we ever do this? Doubtful. Why not? I think mostly because, even if we could get wide-spread agreement that it would be cost-effective, most Americans would think it's just way too big a role for government to take.