The Juvenile Justice System (JJS): An Overview
The JJS is one of the major frameworks of the criminal legal system of a country that deals with youth crimes, generally between the ages of 10 and 18 years. In the USA, the upper age limit is established by the juvenile law of each state, which differs. A juvenile crime can be termed as any offense that could be carried out by an adult however that is made by a juvenile. As well, there are also “status crimes” that may only be performed by a youth, for example curfew infringements, absconding, absenteeism, and juvenile alcohol usage. In the JJS, juvenile criminals are not arraigned as adults, and their court cases are dealt with an independent court aimed for juvenile youths.
The JJS functions in accordance to the assumption that youths are basically dissimilar to adults, both in terms of level of responsibilities and prospects for rehabilitation and treatment. The rehabilitation and treatment as well as the successful reintegration of such youths into society are the major objectives of the JJS, together with general public safety goals.
In the US Law, all persons below the age of 18 are known as juveniles. Each state, on the other hand, determines who, based on age, might be put on trial in juvenile courts. Court cases can be sent from criminal court to juvenile court, and vice versa, in differing situation as established by state law. Even if a juvenile is put on trial in the criminal court, he might be dealt as a “youthful offender,” a position that may provide a closed trial, and may help the juvenile`s record to be eliminated when he attains the age of 21.
All the US states facilitate juveniles to be tried as adults in criminal court in specific situations. Many state legislative bodies statutorily remove specific criminal behaviors from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court irrespective of the age of the guilty. As well, federal prosecutors and many state prosecutors determine whether to record criminal charges contrary to the juvenile directly in adult criminal court or to progress through the juvenile justice procedure. Likewise, the juvenile court might order the juvenile to criminal court for the court case as an adult.
Juveniles are given many of the same protections offered in adult criminal trials, comprising of the right to trial, the right against self-incrimination, and the entitlement to call witnesses. In the majority of US states, though, juveniles are put on trial in juvenile court and are not given the power to a panel of judges. As well, juveniles in the JJS may not prevent the arrest by registration of bail.
The confidentiality of criminal offenders is strongly protected, the majority of juvenile court cases is kept aloof from the public, and juvenile records are strongly secret.
Necessity of Juvenile Justice System: An Introduction
Traditionally in the USA, the juvenile court system was based on two core beliefs regarding youths who breached the country`s law (Empey, 1979 See Mack, 1909). One belief was that youths were both cognitively and ethically immature and as such they should not be judged as much answerable for their offensive deeds. The other was that juvenile criminals were especially compliant and flexible and hence weak to ethical and social rehabilitative measures. Consequently, it was the aim and objective of the juvenile court to perform the rehabilitation of the juvenile criminals and to dissuade them from future delinquent behaviors. To promote such philosophy, the juvenile court was established in comparison to normal adult courts designed to be casual trials that based on in the deep-rooted doctrine of parens patriae, which gave the courts the power over the incarceration and control of young children who were deficient of proper parental care (See Rendleman, 1971). The root of the customary juvenile court trial was the character, or sentencing of the youths, rather than the arbitration, or trial to establish the youth`s virtuousness or faults. Hence, the court trials in juvenile court primarily concentrated less on whether the youth had infringed the law on the occasion being considered and more on the social and ethical conditions of the criminal and how to take corrective and rehabilitative measure for their criminal behaviors. Hence, juvenile court judges had wide powers at their disposal both in judging traditions as well in rehabilitative measures.
The US Supreme Court implemented the In re Gault ruling in 1967 (In re Gault, 1967), to enforce procedural due process conditions of juvenile court settlement. These conditions were aimed to guarantee that delinquent youths who were found guilty of crimes would have ample opportunities to dispute the charges forcefully. Amongst the ceremonial rights that Gault considered were legally essential in juvenile court delinquency trials were the right to see the charges, the right to hire lawyers, the right to question the witnesses against the guilty, and the right to fight against forced self-incrimination. Later cases mandated procedural included the need that prosecutors should prove delinquency accusations past a realistic doubt and the prevention against later retrial in adult criminal court under the clause of the Fifth Amendment of the US constitution. Because of these constitutional conditions, settlements through juvenile court came to more closely alike to ordinary criminal trials.
This research paper explores the pros and cons of the abolition of the separate delinquency jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
Procedural Due Process & the Contemporary Juvenile Court
A lot of research on the juvenile courts carried out following the Gault ruling found that the procedural reforms of Gault have not proved to be successful in supporting delinquent youths` fair court trial proceedings as those provided to adult criminals (Bortner, 1982 Finkelstein et al, 1973). Nevertheless, the outcomes of these past researches have debated the premise that the radical modifications supported by Gault would eventually need time to apply fully and the research studies following Gault ruling do not precisely show the ultimate success in changing juvenile court practices.
As well, new studies of the juvenile court validate the outcomes of the past ones. Empirical research (Feld, 1995), point out that the system modern times have been unsuccessful to provide the procedural justice as proposed by Gault. For instance, in a study of many juvenile court judges, attorneys, and probation officers (Sanborn, 1994), most of them were of the view that the judicial conduct at times affected the capabilities of the juvenile defendants to have a just and fair trial.
About 70% of the court workers surveyed were of the view that juvenile court judges generally had the familiarity of pre-trial of the juvenile`s past criminal record and of the suggested nature of the probation officer, and a most of them believed that this knowledge generated favoritism in the judge against the delinquent youths (Sanborn, 1994).
In spite of the condition that blame should be proved beyond a realistic doubt, about 50% the people believed that juvenile court judges found delinquent criminals accountable even when the record did not fulfill those standards. Over 33% of the people surveyed thought that juvenile court judges accepted the evidence that should have been removed under the rules of evidence. A lot of court workers noted that juvenile court trials were carried out quite instantly, that there do not exist critical environment, and juvenile court staff manipulated with the juvenile`s capability to have a just and free trial. The study conducted by Sanborn acknowledged that adult defendants generally do not get mandated procedural justice nevertheless found that the bureaucratic procedures of the juvenile court system were more detrimental to those of the adult system (Sanborn, 1994).
Separation of Juvenile Court
Much has changed in juvenile court procedures and practice in the 30 years since the Supreme Court observed that the young offender receives “the worst of both worlds: he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children” (Kent v. United States, 1966). Nevertheless, as described above, juveniles accused of crime still do not receive the same caliber of procedural justice as do adult defendants. Some juvenile court scholars are skeptical about whether a separate juvenile court system can ever achieve procedural justice equivalent to that of the adult court system. For example, Barry Feld concludes, “After more than two decades of constitutional and legislative reform, juvenile courts continue to deflect, co-opt, ignore, or absorb ameliorative tinkering with minimal institutional change”(Feld, 1991). Because of this intractability of the juvenile court to meaningful reform, Feld and others advocate the abolition of juvenile court delinquency jurisdiction and replaced by a unified criminal court system for all age defendants (Feld, 1991 Ainsworth, 1995).
To the extent that the procedural deficiencies of the juvenile court are a product of a paternalistic parens patriae ideology that continues to affect the behavior of lawyers and judges in juvenile court, the abolition of a separate juvenile court delinquency jurisdiction would help to eliminate these shortcomings. In particular, lawyers practicing in a unified criminal court system would be less likely to adopt the non-adversarial guardianship role in representing young clients, since they would no longer have the supporting rationale that the prosecution was, after all, “just” a juvenile court case. Similarly, the right to jury trial in a unified criminal court system would prevent the kind of perfunctory trials that are all too common in juvenile court (Sanborn, 1994). In a jury trial, the accused would be found guilty only when the evidence showed guilt of the offense charged and not because the judge recognized the accused as a repeat offender or thought that the accused could benefit from the disposition proposed by the state.
Although the creation of a unified criminal court system would have significant procedural advantages for young offenders, it would not be without its costs. Particularly for violent crimes, the sentences meted out in the adult system are generally longer than in the juvenile system so that a unified criminal court system might expose certain young offenders to more severe sanctions than those faced in a separate juvenile court system. Those who advocate the creation of a unified criminal court system have consequently urged that youth and immaturity be considered a mitigating factor in sentencing (See Ainsworth, 1991 Feld, 1993). In the current get-tough political climate, it is by no means certain that such mitigation would occur.
A less tangible, but no less real, negative consequence of abolishing the delinquency jurisdiction of the juvenile court would be the loss of its perceived symbolic import. Because the juvenile court was based on the idea that juvenile offenders were uniquely salvageable, the abolition of juvenile court might be seen as a recognition that society no longer believes it can save juveniles or, indeed, that they are even worth saving. If the abolition of the delinquency jurisdiction of the juvenile court were to be seen as a sign of despair, then the potential benefits of a unified criminal court system would be unlikely to be realized.
Pros & Cons of Juvenile Justice System: An Analysis
A forceful case can be established for eliminating the juvenile justice system from the country, or more explicitly, removing delinquency, the concept that delinquent youths are not fully mature enough to take up the responsible behavior and should be tackled in a distinct court system. Abolishing crime is not analogous to as abolition of the whole juvenile court. In case legislators removed the juvenile court`s authority over criminal law infringements, the juvenile courts could keep on handling other kinds of court cases. Indeed, delinquent youths could continue to be managed by the same judges however the courts would function as youth divisions of a criminal court applying criminal processes in a particular criminal code.
Abolishment of criminal behavior necessitate that all delinquent criminals be shifted to adult rehabilitative programs or adult probation departments. A number of US states already function independent rehabilitative centers for delinquent youths. The judgment to manage all delinquent youths inn the criminal court would not dissuade rehabilitative specialization. A lot of states would still have the choice to classify criminals by age when incarcerated or else managing accused criminals and the government would still need such division as a requirement of financial assistance for state rehabilitative centers.
Debate over elimination of the juvenile justice system denotes the court`s duty for criminal behavior cases. Legislators must determine what kind of court should have legal authority for those delinquent youths who break the law. The debate focuses on whether to continue explaining law infringements by delinquent youths, or to categorize them simply as crimes and refer them to criminal courts.
Juvenile Justice Politics
The JJS motivates strong debates, and not all of participants fit into distinct groups like “liberal” or “conservative.” It would be incorrect to presume that all the opponents of the juvenile court are callous, who feel little sympathy for the poor, unevenly minority youths and who comprise the mainstream of the juvenile court`s regulars. The opponents are mostly support removal of the juvenile justice system are generally inspired by a concern for youth. They think the juvenile court has never fulfilled the correctional promise and is incapable to meet. More notably, the juvenile court`s poorer standards of due process have not been satisfactory in view of its modern stress on fair justice. The law courts were implied to manage law infringements, and not the social welfare problems.
It would also be considered erroneous to typify all the supporters of the juvenile court as “soft on crime” or unrelated to juvenile victim rights. A number of those who support the JJS do so for the reason that they believe in spite of its failings, the juvenile court presents a distinctive prospect for comprehensive, early initiative and efficient crime avoidance steps. Indeed, the juvenile court was primarily meant as a casual, quasi-civil court specifically meant free of the bureaucratic troubles that dissuade the criminal court from performing too assertively. The juvenile court was intentionally aimed to be flexible and quick to arbitrate.
Both the extremes in the debate over juvenile justice can pursue their particular agenda. The traditionalists endorse a strict delineation between youths and adult court and would like to salvage the original notion of an informal, non-stigmatizing, juvenile justice system. This stance is wholly impracticable, nevertheless, in view of the lawmaking modifications already applied all over the USA. The modern juvenile court functions alike criminal courts with stringent policies on evidence, detrimental processes, and executive objectives that comprise of incapacitation and justice. As well, almost every US state has endorsed laws to dispatch greater numbers of youths to adult court. It is now quite delayed to salvage the traditional justice system since the traditional system has already lost much of its utility.
Abolitionists, on the other hand, can be just as unrealistic. A lot of them would simply remove the juvenile court`s task for delinquent criminals. If youths are penalized consistent with the gravity of their offenses, the abolitionists claim, they should be put on trial in real courts with full due process entitlements. The abolitionists argue it is no more possible to continue with the view that juvenile courts are basically special. However, without major reformations of the criminal courts, the elimination of juvenile justice would necessitate dispatching all youths even the youngest and most susceptible to the same traditional trial courts censured by the legislators as being unsuccessful. If the traditionalists seem inexperienced, the abolitionists appear uncontrolled.
Many legislators have attempted to identify a middle path in the conflict. Regrettably, their bargaining solution was to gradually criminalize the juvenile court. In particular, ever since the US Supreme Court`s Gault decision, legislators all over the USA have supported juvenile courts to achieve the goals and operational style of criminal courts. Juvenile courts in the present times follow many of the aims when distinctive criminal courts, comprise of incapacitation and revenge. Both the juvenile courts and criminal courts depend on plea bargaining for case consequences. Both are stimulated by rising court cases to implement assembly-line methods and they generally have problems offering individual judgments. The routine atmosphere in the contemporary juvenile courts is much identical to that of criminal courts.
Despite the fact these reforms may have been approved for justification, they bring about critical issues regarding the constant need for an independent, juvenile court system. Given the legislators persist to rise the relationship of juvenile and criminal court sanctions it becomes more difficult to validate the division of the process that enforces them. As a judicial judgment is narrowed, the juvenile court`s previously extensive authority becomes weak, hence making the court more ceremonial and rigid. Various reforms that spanned for many years raised the rigorousness of the juvenile court procedures however they also reduced the court`s capacity to offer comprehensive and effective interventions for delinquent criminals. The support of the juvenile court was inherent to youth supporters, social workers, family counselors, clergy, intellectuals, defense lawyers, judges, and in many court staff.
If there were no expenditures to be paid for upkeep an independent juvenile court, there would be no need to debate its practicality in the present times. All assiduous and painstaking people would endorse the juvenile court without a doubt. Of late, nevertheless, it has become evident that endeavors to maintain a separate, juvenile court invokes major costs, for the justice system and for youths.
Juvenile justice at present entails two notable costs on American juveniles. Firstly, the juvenile court in fact no more delivers rehabilitation. Secondly, the constant presence of the JJS helps courts, corrections, and other agencies disregard the intrinsic youthfulness of many criminals now labeled as adults.
The rising use of criminal court transfer is considered to be very harmful to the organizational reliability of the juvenile courts. Public safety supporters are necessarily motivated on improving the utilization of transfer, in spite of the research showing doubts on its efficiency. Moreover, youth supporters are forced to yield large parts of the juvenile court`s original caseload in lieu of whatever remains of the juvenile system legislators might agree to continue.
There have many debates regarding the pros and cons of the juvenile justice system. Debate over elimination of the juvenile justice system denotes the court`s duty for criminal behavior cases. Legislators must determine what kind of court should have legal authority for those delinquent youths who break the law. The debate focuses on whether to continue explaining law infringements by delinquent youths, or to categorize them simply as crimes and refer them to criminal courts. If the abolition of the delinquency jurisdiction of the juvenile court were to be seen as a sign of despair, then the potential benefits of a unified criminal court system would be unlikely to be realized.
The future prospects of the juvenile courts are vague, in view of its constant bureaucratic failings. As well, it is uncertain whether reform or abolition presents the utmost hope of lastly realizing the practical justice as proposed by Gault. What is evident is that realizing practical justice for juveniles suggests espousing critically the challenges of offering fair processes and sufficient resources for arbitrating criminal charges and of creating dispositional traditions that facilitate the realization of needs of delinquents and of society generally. Finally, this implies changing the character, not only of the JJS, however also of the criminal justice system all together.
Now reduction in juvenile cases of violence motivates the US legislators an occasion to deliberate and reflect upon how they have modified the juvenile court and what its future should be. This is the proper time to ask whether a separate system of juvenile justice is really sustainable legally or politically. There might be adequate time to create a new youth justice system before a new violent crime spate develop.
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Ainsworth, J.E. (1995). Youth justice in a unified court: A response to critics of juvenile court abolition. Boston College Law Review 36:927 – 51.
Bortner, M.A. (1982). Inside a juvenile court: The tarnished ideal of individualized justice. New York: New York University Press.
Empey, L.T. (1979). The social construction of childhood and juvenile justice. In The future of childhood and juvenile justice. L.T. Empey, Ed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, pp. 138 – 74.
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Feld, B.C. (1995). Violent youth and public policy: A case study of juvenile justice law reform. Minnesota Law Review 79:965 – 1128.
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Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 566 (1966).
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Rendleman, D.R. (1971). Parens patriae: From chancery to the juvenile court. South Carolina Law Review 23:205 – 59.
Sanborn, J.B. (1994). Remnants of parens patriae in the adjudicatory hearing: Is a fair trial possible in juvenile court? Crime & Delinquency 40:599 – 615.