TheJuvenile Justice System
The criminal justice system, in any jurisdiction, seeks to deteroffenders from committing crimes. This is done through thetraditional approach where offenders are put behind bars, therebyseparating them from the innocent members of the society. Also,imprisonment and other forms of sentencing help deter potentialoffenders from engaging in crime. Traditionally, child offenders weresubjected to the same treatment with their adult counterparts. Afterthe courts adjudicating on their matters, they would be sent to thecriminal cells to serve their sentences. This, however, proved to bea wrong and unpopular move. There was a feeling that juvenileoffenders should be subjected to a justice system that takes intoconsideration their needs. There was a feeling that such a juvenilesystem should be focused on rehabilitating the offenders instead ofpunishing them. Today, every state has a full-fledged juvenilesystem. Whether such systems have met their purposes or not issubject to debate. This paper analyzes the juvenile justice system inthe United States of America.
TheJuvenile Justice System
In any country, the justice system ensures that offenders are chargedand sentenced according to the magnitude of the offenses theycommitted, and the prescribed laws that they acted against.Offenders, however, cannot all be subjected to the same justicesystem. Different demographics call for an adjustment or a differentjustice system to be used. For instance, it would be wrong to subjectchildren to the justice system that adults and other seriousoffenders are subjected to. The existence of this type of systemensures that while prosecuting matters, children are givenpreferential treatment. The essence of this is to ensure thatyouthful offenders are not subjected to destructive punishments thatare common in criminal courts which may dent their future. Lacey(2013) argues that there are high chances for a youngoffender to learn from their offenses. This potential means it wouldbe beneficial to nurture or guide the youthful offenders for them torealize the importance of keeping the law. The main role of judicialpunishment is to rehabilitate an offender for them to become bettermembers of the society. Subjecting youthful offenders to the standardjustice system would, no doubt, fail to serve this purpose.
The juvenile system takes into consideration the specific needs ofthe youthful offenders and works towards rehabilitating them. Itdiffers from the criminal court system /adult justice system innumerous ways. For instance, such a system views the youthfuloffenders as persons who need assistance, as opposed to people thatviolate the law (Lacey2013). This means that the act or offense that securedtheir presence in court is not looked at, rather how best the courtcan help improve such persons to be better persons. The normal courtsystem does not embrace this approach, as its role is restricted topunish offenders so as to increase deterrence.
Young offenders must be treated with care when they are facingcharges if the purpose of the system is to be achieved. As Lacey(2013) notes, proceedings in such systems are highlyinformal, with the juvenile court judge given the discretion tochoose the manner in which to run the proceedings. Giving them thisdiscretion is essential as it helps them gauge the capacity(age/mental) of the offender before deciding on the best approach totake. In conducting such proceedings, the principle concept of ‘thebest interest of the child’ should be taken into account.Procedural bureaucracies, as such, are not effected. The offender ishandled and treated in such a manner that they do not see themselvesas law-breakers. However, the intention is to make them, in the bestmethod possible, understand that their actions were wrong and thatthey should never repeat such actions. Lack of the proceduralsafeguards means that the rules of practice in the adult courts (suchas the right to an attorney, right to understand the charges) are notgiven priority(Sickmund & Puzzanchera2014). In discharging their duties, judges double asthe protectors of the young offenders.
To ensure that the accused offenders do not feel intimidated, thejuvenile system does not encourage open court proceedings. The publicis not often allowed, and only persons with interest such as parentsare allowed to attend. On the same note, such records of juvenilesare to be safeguarded against any exposure to the public.Confidentiality is taken seriously, and the media is prohibited frompublishing any information that might reveal the identity of theoffender. Because most of the youthful offenders are adolescents,there is a feeling that exposing their records to the public willaffect their ability to rehabilitate and change to become better(Sickmund & Puzzanchera2014). Reintegration into the society will also bedifficult and impossible because they will suffer from lowself-esteem. To further ensure that such offenders subjected to thesystem have high chances of changing behavior, the language used insuch courts is a bit friendly when compared to that used in normalcourts. For instance, whereas in courts offenders are charged withcrimes, juvenile courts use a lesser term (charging them withdelinquencies). Besides, youthful offenders cannot be found guiltyrather they are adjudicated delinquent. Lastly, if it is establishedthat they were guilty as charged, they are sent to reformatory ortraining schools. This is not the case with adult offenders who aresent to prison.
Despite this smooth approach towards handling juvenile offenders,there has always been a conflict as to what should prevail- betweensocial control and social welfare. Should this justice system putemphasis on the juvenile’s best interests, or be based on the needto punish offenders and streamline their behavior in the society?Over time, this issue has been debated. Lacey(2013), for instance, advocates for such offenders tobe subjected to the normal court processes and if found guilty, becharged and sentenced. To him, this will play the role of deterringand separating offenders with other members of the society. Theapproach taken, however, differs from one state to the other.
The juvenile justice system is not uniform throughout the variousStates in America. The systems may also differ from one county toanother in certain states. This implies that there exist over 51juvenile justice systems, meaning that the rules of practice are notsimilar. The way that such juvenile courts operate is based onup-close aspects, and what the State in question intends to achieve.Although such differences exist as a matter of policy, the federalgovernment has inherent jurisdiction over all juvenile justicesystems in America. It has certain set procedures and rules on whenit can be called to intervene, and what its limits are about theindependent systems as defined by different States. To effect thejuvenile systems, several states benefit from the national governmentin that they receive funds from the federal government to fosterjustice systems. The federal government operates under the JuvenileJustice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Such States that receivefunds under this Act are required to meet certain conditions tobenefit from the federal sponsorship.
The juvenile justice system seeks to separate juvenile offenders fromadult offenders in several aspects. For instance, it ensures thatyouthful offenders are not put in the same correctional facilitieswith adult offenders. This soft approach is well-documented andencouraged. Despite this being the case, there are several factorsthat play a role in shaping the juvenile systems. The laws existingabout the juvenile system do not often lead to their implementationin practice (Leiber& Peck 2015). At times, the proceedings andsubsequent sentencing may not be as prescribed by the juvenilejustice systems. For instance, the judge in question may take intoconsideration the expense of incarceration. Second, the effect suchdecisions may have on overcrowding correctional facilities may betaken into account. It is important to note that there is anincreased change towards embracing the get-tough approaches as moreand more people feel that they benefit the society and help preventcrime.
As Leiber &Peck (2015 note, there is a move towards embracing atough approach when dealing with juvenile offenders as compared tothe past. Records show that there is an increased number of juvenileoffenders that are subjected to the formal handling of the adultjustice system as opposed to being referred to the juvenile justicesystem (Leiber& Peck 2015). The approach has also shifted towardsembracing punitive approaches. Diversion is one of the programs thatmost states are embracing instead of the correctional facilities thatjuveniles used to be sent to. The consensus among different States isthat embracing the soft approach where the best interests of thechild are given preference to the societal needs may result in moreharm than the intended good. Repeat or serial offenders, forinstance, may be motivated by the knowledge that they will not beexposed to the full force of the law even if they commit offenses.This may motivate them to engage in offenses with full disregard ofthe law. Besides, such correctional facilities may play the role ofbringing together offenders or ‘criminals’ of the same age-group.This may give them an opportunity to sharpen their criminal skills,hence posing a major risk to the future of the generation.
Despite the noble ideas and intention behind the juvenile justicesystem, a lot of criticisms have been directed to it. For instance,there is little to show that it serves its role properly. There arequestions regarding its effectiveness as far as rehabilitating andchanging the behavior of youthful offenders is concerned. A lot ofresearch on the incarceration and prosecution of juveniles shows thatcriminal behavior among the youth is triggered by life transitionssuch as finishing school and failing to secure a job. Leiber& Peck (2015)’s research shows that juvenilesthat have been subjected to the justice system have a higher risk ofhaving their transitions affected, hence may end up going back tocrime when they are adults.
Because of the ineffectiveness highlighted above, there is a need forreforms in the system to ensure that it serves its purpose. Inparticular, such reforms should be geared towards ensuring that theeffectiveness of the system is boosted, in addition to reducingdiscrimination. According to Sickmund & Puzzanchera(2014), such reforms ought to give priority to earlyinterventions even before the offenders find themselves in a juvenilecourt. The correctional facilities, besides, ought to be improved toensure the rehabilitation process is effective, as opposed topunishing the offenders. On his part, Lacey(2013) stipulates that it is wrong to transfer juvenileoffenders to the criminal justice systems. If put in place, thesereforms will help achieve the purpose of the juvenile system, therebycurbing crime among the juveniles.
Lacey, C.(2013). Racial disparities and the juvenile justice system: A legacyof trauma. LosAngeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child TraumaticStress.
Leiber,M. J., & Peck, J. H. (2015). Race, gender, crime severity, anddecision making in the juvenile justice system. Crime& Delinquency, 61(6),771-797.
Sickmund,M., & Puzzanchera, C. (2014). Juvenile offenders and victims:2014 national report.