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The role of a criminal judicial system is to provide a means of discouraging offenders against future wrongful acts. The system should find a means to safeguard the welfare of the society through the principle of justice. This is achieved by fairly controlling the offenders. A juvenile judicial system is a structure of justice aimed at protecting the general society by better management of the young offenders. Adopting a harsher controlling method does not necessarily mean the overall goal is met. Understanding the variables the judicial system presents better, and adopting a balanced approach to solving the flaws is the key. No one system can be 100% effective. However, in regards to the juvenile offenders, the system should appreciate that they are minors. This is a fact that the system ought to acknowledge and act fairly on it to avoid a conflict of goals.
Competing Goals in the Juvenile Justice System
Before 1900, adults and children criminal offenders were treated through the same court procedure; they were sentenced and imprisoned in the same facility. The campaign against this judicial process dates back as the 16th century. It can be traced back to when an education movement called for a difference in treatment and perception between young adults and children. This agenda gained momentum in the 1800 when the reformers advocated for creation of a separate, justice system to deal with the juvenile.
Reformers were concerned about the consequence of the general criminal justice system to young offenders. They were concerned about the effect of imprisoning both hardcore and young offenders together. They were convinced that children had yet to develop full moral and understanding of their actions and the consequences. Therefore, it was unfair to subject young people to the punitive aspect of the adult criminal justice system. In 1899, this campaign successfully culminated in the setting up of a juvenile court in Cook County in Illinois. Other states eventually followed suit; however, at a slow pace (Panel on Juvenile Crime, 2001).
The juvenile justice system was created due to the general criminal system's inability to separate children and adults. Young offenders were in touch with hardcore criminals in jails; this influenced them negatively (Center on Juvenile Criminal Justive, n.d.). The main aim of any correctional center is to initiate behavioral change. Thus, jails were not able to meet this goal. Therefore, the institutionalization of the juvenile system was meant to address this weakness. Various measures were proposed; a different criminal system was to be established. Firstly, it focused on the offender rather than the offense. By adopting the notion that children moral faculties were not fully developed, the system advocated for helping the teenager. The informal system focused more on understanding the child, based on medical and psychological rationale. Furthermore, the new system allowed for the admission of plea or responsibility. The admission of "delinquent" or "not delinquent" proves that the system is concerned with the child rather than the offence. This rehabilitative aim of the system was more emphasized as opposed to the punishment (Gus, 2005).
In connection to a special mission, Gus (2005) observes that the greater mission of a juvenile judicial system should be focused on the community's welfare. Thus, young offenders ought to be rehabilitated and released. He is opposed to imprisonment and imparting of negative influence on young prisoners who are then released to the society. The latter is harmful to the general welfare of the society. The States heeded and developed a juvenile justice system. However, since 1990s', a worrying trend that has threatened to limit the system's mission has prevailed. Pressured by increased violence and other criminal activities in the 1980s', many states adopted more punitive sentence. The sentences were often passed on young offenders.
For example, in the State of Alaska, offender assistance is part of the juvenile system mission. However, it first emphasizes on the accountability of the offenders on their actions and promoting safety and healing to the victims (Division of Juvenile Justice, n.d.). The general level of juvenile crimes in the United States has subsided over the years. Nonetheless, states' continue calling for higher levels of punishment including long jail terms and life imprisonment. California is a widely criticized justice system by the human right watch. The state issues life sentences without parole to offenders below the age of 18 years. This trend is reversing the earlier gains achieved in our judicial system.
Kerr (1975) in his article established that a system in its mission to achieve a goal might as well fail due to several seasons. The conditions attached to the achievement or performance of the goals mail lead to their failure. This phenomenon is arrived at by using a folly reward system. For instance, a company may want to improve its performance by focusing on its personnel. As a reward for better performance like hitting a daily sales target, a company may assign one mark to employees who hit the target. On the other hand, lateness will be penalized by deducting three marks from an individual's sum. The system is established with a good intention; it rewards timely arrival hoping that it would increase performance (Kerr, 1975). However, it may result to poor performance.
The juvenile court system is now changing from its original aim. The States are adopting a punitive sentencing code. The code advocates for imprisonment rather than behavioral change. By making children accountable, and giving them life sentences, the juvenile system is adopting the characteristics of an adult criminal justice system. In total disregard to the childhood tendencies and weaknesses, the system is drifting away from the achievement of its overall corrective responsibility. In California, Human Right Watch group observed that there were some minor offenders besides being assessed by California Youth Authority. However, these offenders were after some years tried as adults and condemned to life imprisonment. This contrasts the implicitly stated mission, the treatment, and rehabilitation of the juvenile offenders (Human Right Watch Group, 2008).
The phenomenon has been complicated by the publicity and current law movies such cases receive. The public debate regarding juvenile court system has always been controversial. The media in search of headlines and breaking news report incidents of juvenile crime. Unfortunately, the media streams are discriminatory with the most injurious or bloody cases often being highlighted. These constant bombardments of shocking realities are meant to arouse public attention; unfortunately, they are commercially oriented. This creates a negative public perception against juvenile offenders and the justice system (Hess, 2009).
These perceptions are difficult to erase. Consequently, juvenile cases become high-profile cases, which are closely watched. The public in the court hearing often sentences the juvenile. Concerning this negativity, the court system, and the legislature may be compromised and follow the general public's mood to avoid controversies. Considering past sentences, the public gets the idea that the court system is too lenient. Therefore, they prejudge the juvenile offenders as posing an equal threat to their security as adults in the general criminal system. In response to this growing concern, many States have backtracked from their original mission of correcting the individuals. Presently, most missions advocate for a system that offers a means to improve public safety as well as accord punishment to offenders.
The folly of this mission is the eventual end the system now addresses. Elimination of the focus on the offender and emphasizing on the security of the society and punishment distorts the original aim of the system. This means that as a young offender passes through the harsh prison system, they may get worse off, both socially and psychologically. In regards to this, they may end up being potentially more dangerous to other inmates and the wider society than if they had been reformed (Champion, 2001).
This new measures have been addressed often by amending the legislations to accommodate popular view. Though human rights groups and other organizations continue to raise their criticism against them, the State politicians may not need to risk their positions and influences against the issues. These punitive measures often end up prejudicing the offenders; some have been wrongfully sentenced for offenses they never committed. The justice system through the judges and prosecutors ought to be fair to the accused. Accommodating public opinion and avoiding perceived controversies through folly assessment and issue of wrongful judgments is against the values of any justice system (Peak, 2009). Justice administration bodies are assigned the duty of guaranteeing that individuals and society are accorded their rights without any threat to prejudice. Unfortunately, Human Right Watch reports that around 68% of the juvenile cases were completed without the offenders having an opportunity to speak out. Furthermore, the cases have been completed without the juvenile being informed of the implications of a life sentence without parole. Furthermore, Human Right Watch reports that in over 2500 life sentences without parole, around 130 of the individuals sentenced did not commit the crime (Human Right Watch Group, 2008).
The value of any system is judged by the accomplishment of goals. Any variation from the original mission, especially, in regards to values may aim to achieve better ways to reach the mission. However, this may alter the principle, which it aimed to achieve. The developments in the system regarding the treatment of the juvenile offenders go against the original purpose of the system. Additionally, it disregards the major factor of childhood; denying minor offenders their human and judicial rights. This amounts to sending them to life destruction and shattering any chance for change and a better community (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996).