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The current juvenile justice systems started in the progress era in the 19th century. Before the establishment of juvenile justice system, offenders below the age of 18 were subjected to the same penalties and proceeding as adults. However, progressive reformers perceived children as innocent, passive and incapable of having criminal intent (Schuster, 2004 & Shannon, 2001). They came up with a juvenile justice system that contrary to normal criminal proceedings, emphasized on the offender and not the offence; they focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
By 1945, all states as well as federal jurisdiction had set up juvenile justice systems. As summarized by Lobber and Farrington, "The developers of the juvenile justice system intended for the system to operate informally in a procedural manner and focus on treatment rather than punishment" (2007, p. 224). In addition, juvenile records and proceeding were hidden from public access in order to protect juveniles from stigma related to criminal trials. Moreover, the juvenile's record was expunged upon reaching the age of 18. Although the original objective of the juvenile justice system was to rehabilitate, the destructive and violent behavior related to juvenile delinquency throughout the last decade has thwarted this goal.
Over the last decade, a larger share of the justice system resources has been dedicated to the juvenile justice system. This is in respond to the rapid increase in violent juvenile crime. To appease greater support for more accountability, many states have passed laws which impose greater punishment and accountability on juveniles (Barton, 2008). Historically, states took the responsibility of administering and establishing juvenile justice systems without any intervention by federal authorities. However as severity of delinquency among juveniles increased, Congress started asserting greater control by passing tougher laws that permit prosecution of juvenile offenders in federal courts.
The Federal Juvenile and Delinquency act was enacted by congress aiming at giving jurisdiction to federal courts over specific juvenile delinquency acts. Further changes were made to the juvenile justice system when the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was enacted (Wilson and Lipsey, 2007). It stated 3 situations whereby a federal prosecutor may claim jurisdiction and authority over a juvenile offender: 1. in case a state refuses to assert or lacks jurisdiction over specific juvenile offender. 2. In case the state programs lack the capacity to meet a juvenile's needs. 3. If the federal courts have substantial interests in prosecuting a specific juvenile offender.
The enactment of JJDPA mandated all states to: 1. All status offenders to be de-institutionalized. 2. Sound and sight separation of juveniles and adults confined in the same facility. 3. Removal of juveniles who have been transferred to the adult justice system 3. To provide funds to programs which provide law enforcement to juvenile correction facilities 4. Reduction of minority juveniles confined or detained in secure facilities. The juvenile justice system has been criticized and attacked from many directions. Many critics argue that the steep rise in juvenile crime is a sign of the ineffectiveness of the juvenile justice system.
The system faces a lot challenges especially on facilities and professionalism. For instance, the system requires for itself a good number of psychiatric to handle the children's mental problems as a process of rehabilitation. The facilities are not enough to gather for individual need which culminates to incinerated children becoming future criminals. As a professional, the challenge of professionalism and facilities could be my priorities to make the system more effective as the finding s shows that 89% of juvenile detentions lead to future crimes (Lippman, 2010).
Interestingly, the system is applauded for service interchange with other fields like healthcare systems and the adult criminal courts. The output of the system are input to other systems for instance the aftercare system and the adult systems. When a detainee is released he/she receives another class of re-handling depending criminal's condition and the state during the release. All these smooth transitions are regarded as some of the strengths of juvenile justice systems.
Many states have even turned to waivers in order to transfer delinquent juveniles to adult courts with the intent of increasing sanctions on many youth offenders. From another perspective, this system has been depicted as caught in between rehabilitation and justice yet the policies, programs and resources are inadequate. Critism of this justice system ranges from leniency to over representation youth belonging to minority groups in correctional programs.
Supporters of the juvenile justice system are of the opinion that violent juvenile crime is a period of transition in behavioral patterns of youth; in addition, they argue that adolescent crime is highly unlikely to increase to more serious crime. Adolescent offenders are perceived as being able to benefit from treatment services offered by the juvenile justice system as well as ensure minimal threat to safety of the public. Proponents of the juvenile justice system further argue that rehabilitative programs established by the system are effective and are usually evaluated using poor methods which mask the natural benefits of juvenile corrections.
In order to balance the goals and objectives of the juvenile justice system, Malone, Roney and Armstrong (1998) developed the "balanced approach". This model identified 3 objectives juvenile justice system: accountability, protection and competency. Community protection refers to the fact that the juvenile justice system is capable of protecting public safety since its can detect which youth require what level of restrictive control. Accountability refers to the ability of youth correction programs to enable youth to be aware of the penalties and consequences of illegal behavior. Competency development is the use of rehabilitation techniques to help youth develop resources and skills.
New evidence compiled by Sigmund and Snyder (2009) from the Juvenile justice national centre reveal a complicated pattern of juvenile arrests. Increase in the rate of juvenile arrests because of violent crimes such as manslaughter, murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery increased considerably between 2004 and 2008 after a decade of stability. The rate of arrest of juveniles based on violent crimes after 2005 stood at 450 per 100000 juveniles who were between 10-17 years of age.
Further analysis reveals a steady decline falling to approximately 400 by 2009. However, it worth noting that this crimes stand for a relative small proportion (close to five percent) of all juvenile cases. Rape, manslaughter and murder combined constitute less than one percent (Sickmund & Snyder,2008) .
Research shows that about five to fifteen percent of juvenile offenders cause close to eighty percent of violent acts by juveniles (Schuster, 2004; Shannon, 2001; Hamparian, 2008; Wolfgang, et al, 1998). A lot of pressure to impose tougher measures on juveniles is provoked by these violent offenders this results to establishment of boot camps, secure bed systems, longer sentences as well as transfers from juvenile justice systems to adult criminal jurisdiction. The Juvenile justice and Prevention of Delinquency Office has developed strategies for chronic and violent offenders who constantly repeat offenses as well as pose a high risk to the safety of the public. This new strategies focus on prevention, community based programs and early intervention (Howell & Wilson, 2006).
A recent analysis of close to two hundred methods of intervention used in the juvenile justice system especially in the violent and serious offenders department reveals that the most effective methods involve skill training, family and home programs and cognitive treatment (Wilson and Lipsey, 2007). Further analysis reveals that the typical intervention programs in the juvenile system reduces the chances of subsequent re-offences by close to twenty percent. On the other hand the best programs which contain the components mentioned above reduce recidivism by approximately forty five percent.
As summarized by Loeber and Farrington, " The best interventions in the juvenile justice systems have are multi modal so as to address multiple complications and problems such as substance abuse, law breaking, family and academic problems" (2007, p. 218). They further observed that the least effective methods were those involving alternatives to incarceration. The enactment of the JJDPA radically transformed the juvenile justice system and led to the creation of detention centers, youth homes and juvenile halls. These facilities were meant to house juvenile offenders who have appeared before the court.
The statutes enacted by many states often limit detention of pre trial juveniles especially those deemed to be high risk individuals. In addition, use of detention for administrative convenience or as a punishment is explicitly forbidden by state laws. Herrera and Krisberg (2005) in their analysis concluded that many of the detained juveniles are mainly male (eighty percent admissions; eighty six percent based on one day count.) Non white were forty four percent black, seventeen percent Hispanic, two percent were in the 'other' category while thirty two percent were white. Less than half were convicted because of serious offenses. There has been little change in these patterns with the exception of black youth whose representation has increased.
Sickmund and Snyder (2008) report that the likely hood of black youth to be detained was twice as likely to occur compared to white youth. Other issues addressed by the report included, the appalling confinement conditions such as inadequate healthcare, overcrowding, injuries, limited education and isolation. These issues are troubling particularly in the light of evidence supporting the fact that juveniles routinely held in detention facilities are highly unlikely to commit new crimes while waiting for court hearings. Research has shown that juveniles who are securely detained have higher chances of getting out-of home placements in comparison to those who are not detained (Feld, 2001; Frazier and Bishop, 2006; Fitzharris 2002).
Alternatives to the establishment of secure detention centers are being proposed in a combined effort to improve the juvenile justice system. Non violent offenders can be punished using less restrictive methods without compromising public safety. For example, juvenile who are put in home detention programs are subject to frequent random visits by juvenile home detention officers: The success of this technique has been proven in many states (Huff & Lilly, 2003; Community Research Report, 2008; Barton, 2007). Electronic monitoring methods vary, using technology that, in some ways confirm the presence and location of the offender.
Probation is one of the main methods used in the juvenile justice systems. Out of every one thousand delinquency cases handled by the juvenile courts in 2007, Sickmund and Snyder (2008) estimate that close to five hundred were not petitioned. In addition, approximately one hundred and twenty offenders were put in probation. Among the five hundred and sixty petitioned cases, eight were waived and transferred to the adult courts, while two hundred and fifty were not adjudicated. Of the remaining three hundred and twenty two cases, more than a quarter were placed under probation. The remaining thirty four percent received other sanctions and punishment.
The probation officer normally performs roles of being the 'counselor'- trying to create a supportive relationship. On the other hand he/she has to monitor the offender's compliance as well as initiate court intervention if necessary. This method is however limited by demands for investigations, report and assessment preparation which lead to supervision being done at a moderate level. Intensive supervision is required in approximately one third of all cases handled by juvenile justice systems (Steel & Bakke, 2002). Juvenile intensive supervision is a practical substitute to residential placement and research has shown that this technique reduces juvenile delinquency at a third of the cost. The success of intensive supervision is also clear since eighty percent of offenders who were put under the program did not engage in criminal activity even after leaving the program.
Community and restitution service programs are being widely applied throughout the juvenile justice. They offer accountability to the community as well as the victims when used together with intensive or regular supervision. Lipsey, (2008) noted that this programs can help victims confront offenders as well as enable them to seek compensation. Other studies have shown that restitution has modest effect on juvenile delinquency (Ervin & Schneider, 2008). The benefits of community service and restitution may be a symbolism of victim restoration and accountability.
Day programs have been introduced in the juvenile justice systems which ensure structured activities for offenders during several hours of the day. Day programs involve job training programs, evening programs, after school programs as well as skill building activities.
It's worth noting that there is a vital significance of disposition guidelines in the juvenile justice systems. Its often involves a sequence of decision points such as, arrest, petition, adjudication, detention, disposition and release. Court personnel and law enforcement have a lot of discretion when making decisions on their response to juvenile offenders. Some states have enacted laws which ensure their juvenile justice systems ensure secure confinement of offenders.
In addition, many juvenile justice personnel fail to follow decision-making guidelines or criteria possibly due to dislike of being limited on their discretion (Barton, 2008). This resentment by juvenile officials can be justified by the fact that they have wide experience in making suitable decisions. Therefore objective decision making criteria have to be started as part of a wider strategy that introduction of appropriate and sufficient placements.
In conclusion, the juvenile justice system will continue to have wide fluctuations in terms of policies and legislation. This is due to pursuit of multiple goals by juvenile officials as well as the changing supremacy of a diverse community. The goals and objectives summarized in this paper- public safety, accountability, and competency development- are all compatible. However they should be balanced as outlined by Snyder (2008). Public opinion surveys have shown that attaining such a balance is possible.
The people who founded the juvenile justice system envisioned government responsibility in rehabilitating delinquent youth; has the sheer number of youth in the juvenile system compromised its ability to be creative, benign and flexible? While it's hard to analyze how the increasing number of juvenile offenders has compromised the systems original vision, it looks as if the juvenile system will not experience a decrease in traffic any time soon.
While the juvenile system has played a vital role in rehabilitating the majority of delinquents the system has been unsuccessful in handling a small proportion of juvenile offenders. In most cases such delinquents are highly likely to continue posing a threat to the public yet some states refuse to impose stringent punishment on violent offenders in proportion to the acts of crime committed.
Snyder, S & Sickmund, W. Juvenile Correction: Social Work Encyclopedia, (2009): 319-373.
Lobber, A. & Farrington, R. A Blue Print for Youth Correction: Corrections Management Quarterly, 2nd edn, Pearson Education Australia, French's Forest, NSW, (2008) 143-146
Maloney, J. & Armstrong, T. De-institutalisation of Juvenile Offenders: Intensive Supervision Programs for Juvenile Delinquents, vol. 45, no. 2, (1998): 21-44.
Wilson. Lipsy & Stanley, P. House Arrest and Correctional Policy: Policies and Procedures in Juvenile Justice Systems, 3rd edn, J.Wiley, New York, (2008): 319-381
Schuster, A. Juvenile Disposition Guidelines: Criminal Justice policy Review. London. Addison Wesley, (2009): 112-179.