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Proponents of juvenile justice agree that children sometimes make mistakes and deserve another chance for redemption. Many also agree that passive punishments are critical in the maturity and evolution of the child as he enters adulthood. If this were the case, why are facilities in America operating at fifty percent over capacity? Why do halfway houses in the US see admission rates skyrocket by one-hundred percent?
The answer is quite simple. Before the age of 12, many youngsters begin their descent downward into the abyss of habitual delinquency. Moreover, children under the age of 18 are responsible for 16% of all felonious activity.(Chicago Reporter, 2010) Although a national study concluded that violent crime committed by youths is decreasing, delinquency among the female populace rose sharply; as did the amount of children in public facilities.
The basic concept of the American criminal Justice system has initiated the foundation of the juvenile justice system. (Criminal Justice Today [CJT], 2009) Consensually, the juvenile system is new; therefore, advocates believe that the majority of the children are worth salvaging. They deserve a second chance. The public's outcry for legislators to get tough on crime is challenging the treatment of juveniles in our courts.
In the beginning, in western countries across the globe, children co-existed with adults in structures designed to house criminals. Many children succumbed to torture and were often executed for their crimes. [CJT] One can conclude that these kids who survived these harsh conditions may have discovered new and novel ways to break laws and cause civil disobedience by learning from their adult cell mates.
Prior to a more ideal structure, the English monarchy deemed those children who suffered from mental illness or physical defect criminal. Adults who were cursed with the same problems found themselves in the same holding cells as these children. Why were children and Adults placed in the same institutions and housed together? Back then there were no restrictions on the treatment of juvenile offenders. [CJT]
The inception of Christianity indoctrinated that 7 years of age is when one begins to reason, thus exonerating children age 1-6 from criminal liability. (Delany, 1907). This means that a child 7 years of age was believed to possess the cognitive ability to know right from wrong. If it could be proven that a child aged 7-14 years old demonstrated knowledge of what they have done criminally, then the English court tried them as an adult. In detestable fashion, the king can intervene and place judgment on any member of any family under his rule; including children, simply based on his mood of the day. [CJT]. According to archaic roman statute, it was the patriarchal duty to lay down the law. Children of the family must comply with the father's wishes or risk being treated as incorrigible. Parens patriae was enacted to halt such behavior in children. Parens patriae grants the government or monarchy parental rights and custody of the unruly child.
Early American answers to the management of juvenile offenders mirrored that of England. One similarity to the English construct is that adult and young offenders were housed together. Early puritan belief held that a child who broke the law was also a heretic. The fear of God's punishment prompted banishment of the juvenile from the social framework of the colony.
The English Poor Laws, enacted during the end of the 1700's was a movement that focused on human potential. (Origins of Social Security, nd) These laws were designed to assist indigent children, for it was believed that society is responsible for their well being. Ideas like these were the foundation of America's welfare system. Possibly this sort of legislation was enacted to obstruct a juvenile from committing crimes such as theft, burglary, or larceny; by providing aid to the families of juveniles so the parents or guardian can take care of them adequately.
A report in New York established in 1823 requested that the city should build houses designed to save at-risk youth from lives of crime and poverty. These houses of refuge were specifically for those children who can still be rehabilitated. Still, those youngsters who demonstrated delinquency problems found themselves in adult facilities.
The year 1850 ushered in a movement that emphasized Christian values and a strong accentuation on how a juvenile is to behave. The Chicago Reform School targeted juveniles with the propensity to commit serious crime. By making an attempt to replicate a family environment, these structures provided security and affection. The goal was to recreated positive members of society. The scale of delinquency was severely underestimated and the sanctuaries of rehabilitation quickly became congested and evolved into another institution.
Massachusetts juvenile hearings as early as 1870 required that children be tried separately from adults. This set the precedent as numerous other states in the union began to re-examine their roles in the rehabilitation of young offenders. Just seven years after the Massachusetts decision, the state of New York completely banned contact between adult offenders and young children. By 1859, the Illinois Court Act officially labeled a child delinquent rather than criminal. This was done in the hopes to decrease childhood criminality. Juvenile offenders also found themselves in court specially designed for them, completely separate from adult criminal court. Rulings in this novel setting focused on the child in question, his well being, and his reformation. Whether he was guilty or not is a non issue, protecting children from the adult system was the goal of this Act. By, 1945 the act was in full swing and began to outline a set of principles expected to be the standard of all states.
Holding omnipotent power within its borders affords each state the ability to practice whatever means necessary to save children offenders from prison. Adult criminal proceedings are to be avoided, and each state must see that juveniles face processing engineered specifically for them. The courts cannot help a juvenile successfully without a full and through investigation into virtually every aspect of their lives.
The juvenile system separates children into six categories.(Invitation to Corrections, 2002) Delinquency is defined as when the statutes of a particular jurisdiction are broken by children. Those children who refuse to follow rules in school and are unruly towards their parents are labeled undisciplined. Dependant children are orphans or wards of the state. Starving children or those who live in very poor conditions are ruled neglected. Those who suffer from emotional or physical pains or were violated sexually are deemed abused. Those who break laws made especially for them are status offenders. Status offenses are skipping school, underage drinking, running away, and others. The state will intervene if a youngster falls into any of these categories.
A few landmark court cases prompted the evolution of the juvenile justice system. 1966 found the case of Kent v. US. If a juvenile is transferred to the adult system, he is afforded due process. This means that the rights given to adults before and during trial are now granted to the young offender.
In 1967, four basic rights were given to juveniles in the case of In re Gault. They included the right to confront witnesses, the juvenile shall receive a timely notification of charges, representation can be hired by the juvenile, and the juvenile is protected against incriminating himself. Proving invaluable, these rights prevent the stigmatizing effect of the adult system.
In re Winship from 1970, commanded that the delinquency of a child must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt during proceedings. If delinquency cannot be proven, then the child in question is returned to their parents or guardian.
Although granting a jury to a juvenile is beyond the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court, it has granted individual power to the states to offer this right. This was outlined in the case of McKeiver v. Pennsylvania. After this case, Kansas was the first state in the union to offer a jury to juvenile during adult proceedings.
Breed v. Jones protects children from double jeopardy, while Shaw v Martin in 1984 holds that a child can be held in detention to prevent future delinquencies. In order to detain a juvenile, a judge must notify his parents and a hearing must take place. If during the hearing it is determined that a child is at risk of future run-ins with the law, he will be held in detention.
By reversing a previous decision made in 1989 the U.S. Supreme court in 2005 contradicted the verdict of Stanford v. Kentucky. In Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court ruled the execution of minors unconstitutional. Prior to this decision the standard for the death penalty was set at 16.
A 17 year old boy in Florida, named Lionel Tate killed his playmate by roughhousing. By simply mimicking what he saw on television, Lionel was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The public's outcry of getting tough on crime seems to be gaining some advocacy. After being spared and granted 11 years probation, Lionel broke the law again by committing armed robbery, and he found himself sentenced to 30 years of prison.(Nytimes.com, 2006)
Primarily, the juvenile system focuses on diversion from formal processing; offering privacy. This system seeks to protect the best interest of the offender. There is a huge emphasis on treatment mainly because a belief exists that children can be saved. All records are sealed and later destroyed; the courtroom is closed to the public and the media. The name of the offender is not released for fear of identification. The juvenile is scheduled to be released by his 21st birthday, upholding the concept of no long-term confinement; regardless of the offense committed. (pbs.org, nd)
A youthful offender can find themselves in a dilemma in two ways; a police officer arresting them or a petition is filed with the court by one of the people who deal with the youngster on a daily basis. A juvenile petition claims illegal behavior. Specially trained officers are burdened with the responsibility of handling juveniles after they are arrested. In most jurisdictions, private citizens conduct panels to judge a juvenile's fate as another way to avoid formal proceedings. To avoid court, the youngster must agree to the terms of the panel. In fact, a program in Bethlehem, P.A. allows youngsters to explain to a panel what they did and why they committed the offense. The juvenile will also hear impact statements from the victims and their family, all in the hope to repair the harm the juvenile created.
During a detention hearing, a child can be dismissed from further proceedings or admitted to programs such as job training or mental health facilities. The juvenile may also be forced to perform community service in this initial phase of processing. Dismissal is usually an occurrence, but in many instances the case is diverted to a community agency. (3rdJudicialdistrict.com, 2009)
Determining if probable cause exists and that the youngster in question committed the act is the purpose of the preliminary hearing. If the juvenile avoids any more problems legally, then the charges may be dropped. The prosecuting attorney will request to transfer the case to adult criminal court if the charges are extreme. This will bring forth the transfer hearing.
If the juvenile is found guilty during the transfer hearing, he will then attend the adjudication hearing. These hearings are very different from adult trials because there is no jury, the trials are conducted in a closed courtroom, and they are very informal. Instead of punishment being the focus, the focus is on sentencing measures that will ultimately benefit the child. This hopefully prevents the juvenile from recidivism. Sentencing protocol during the disposition phase involves the decision to confine the youngster to an institution or to place him on probation. If probation is ruled, the juvenile must perform some sort of training, schooling, or he must seek counseling. Fines or restitution may also be mandated.
Is America too lax on its juvenile offenders? From avoiding the use of the label criminal to a slap on the wrist, many believe that the system needs much work. While there is no known cure to remedy our current system, juveniles will continue to be confined in congested structures and ultimately grow into adult criminals. This slap on the wrist possibly makes it easier for kids to be more aggressive in terms of delinquency; after all virtually nothing actually happens to them.