Examining The Cycle Of Juvenile Justice Criminology Essay

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Throughout history there has been a cyclical pattern of juvenile justice policies. Over the past 200 years there has been a cycle of lenient treatments followed by a toughening up process. Bernard theorizes that by studying history, present policies can be explained and future policies predicted and changed. He also proposes that we can have an acceptable juvenile justice policy if we can break the cycle and develop new ideas about juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice.

In order to break the cycle we must look at history and determine what we know has stayed the same over the past 200 years. Justice officials as well as the public have three ideas about juvenile crime: crime is high, present policies make it worse; changing the policies will reduce crime. We also know that throughout history the following are also consistent: 1) young males commit more crime 2) there are laws that pertain only to juveniles 3) juveniles are punished less severely 4) people believe that there is a juvenile crime wave 5) people blame juvenile justice policy for the crime wave 6) the cycle exists (pg 21) . The cycle cannot be broken by any juvenile justice policy because they all encounter the same predicament.

Since we know that these things have stayed the same, we can predict that they will remain the same. We then must look at the things that have changed in history as the juvenile justice system developed. Before urbanization and industrialization, juvenile crime was nonexistent. Juvenile delinquents were seen as poor, potential offenders which derived from three main causes: "weak and criminal parents, temptations of the streets, and a weak moral nature" (pg 64). It was believed that juveniles were malleable and this became the concept of the juvenile justice system. Juveniles could be saved and reformed into productive citizens. This gave way to the development of the House of Refuge, and the placing out system; which in reality were just poor houses and not much in the way of reform.

Legal issues soon developed around these juvenile institutions. Bernard illustrates the change of ideas by the legal system through cases such as Mary Ann Crouse and Daniel O'Connell. Both cases have facts that could be interchanged, but due to their place in history, have different outcomes. Mary Ann Crouse's case focused on the good intentions of those running the House of Refuge, believing that juveniles were treated and helped. Based on parens patriea their decision was that no due process rights were required. Thirty years later the O'Connell case came to the court. Same set of facts only this time the opposite outcome. The court determined that he was being punished instead of helped and based on criminal law, due process rights were required.

The first juvenile courts were born out of the Crouse decision. Frederick Wines suggested a separate court for juveniles. The Illinois state legislature voted this into effect on January 1st, 1899. These juvenile courts were a coercive casework agency which was for youths believed to be salvageable.

To further illustrate the continuing cycle of ideas as related to the court Bernard describes two other cases that follow the same logic as Crouse and O'Connell. The Fisher case in 1905 repeats the Crouse case, and Gault in 1967 repeats the arguments made in the O'Connell case. The facts in all four cases can be interchanged while the outcomes are different depending on where we are in history.

By the 1960's the Supreme Court began to make a number of decisions that impacted the juvenile courts. By this time the idea of parens patriea was dead; in its place was the logic of the O'Connell case. Five important decisions were handed down in nine years. Kent v United States (1966) determined that minimum safeguards were necessary for juveniles. In Re Gault (1967) again further expanded due process rights. In Re Winship (1970) changed the standard of proof to beyond a reasonable doubt. McKeiver v Pennsylvania (1971) determined that a jury trial is not necessary for juveniles. Breed v Jones (1975) established that juveniles cannot be tried on the same charge twice.

Bernard again asked us to look at this history and determined that according to the lessons learned, the Supreme Court decisions were all contrary to the lessons. Therefore these decisions, in essence, did nothing to further the justice system. During the adjudication process now most juveniles are found guilty and there are virtually no appeals. During the disposition process the war on crime has now resulted in get tough legislation which demanded punishment. And so the cycle continues.

What have we learned from this piece of history? Children went from being poor, potential paupers and needing help and protection to depraved maniacs that needed controlled. State power had actually increased, in practice there was punishment without due process followed by coerced treatment.

Bernard suggests that to form a new juvenile justice policy we need to combine the best of each existing policy: juveniles are entitled to less punishment than adults because of age, and juveniles have as many rights. He then follows that premise by stating that "it is a mistake to think that juvenile justice policy alone will solve the problem of delinquency" (pg 159). The ideas about delinquency need to change rather than the policy. He suggests the system should be based on the ideas that juveniles are naïve risk takers. While those that are determined to be "rational calculating young criminals" should be sent to criminal court.

Although he makes these suggestions Bernard also offers another theory. He concludes that delinquency is the result of a larger more social and economic condition in society. Juveniles lacking a sense of purpose or having a role in society engage in delinquency. If we could solve the social and economic problems of society, giving juveniles a sense of purpose, delinquency would disappear.

Bernard goes a long way to make his point that we can learn from the mistakes made in history. They are all valid points that illustrate each potential lesson very well. This text is suitable for those wishing to expand their knowledge and analyze the lessons.

However, his conclusion at the end that delinquency will eventually disappear is a bit of wishful thinking. He offers no suggestions on how we might go about the process of changing society to affect this wonderful outcome. He doesn't support it with any lessons from history or anything else for that matter. This theory is made with good intentions, and as Bernard states on page104 "the road to hell may be paved with good intentions".

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