juvenile justice

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Early juvenile justice was often harsh, just a little over a century ago delinquents above the age of seven would be beat, shamed and thrown in jail with adult prisoners. This soon came to an end though in the late 1800's when progressive reformers in Illinois persuaded the legislature to pass the 1899 Illinois Juvenile Court Act creating America's first juvenile court. This act adopted the early English common law parens patriae philosophy which essentially maintained that the care custody and discipline of children should be equal to that of the care that is given by their parents. Early juvenile courts had many unique features when compared to adult courts. These were features such as, the system being focused more on the individual child rather than on the nature of the criminal offense. The courts also felt that children were merely the products of their environment and therefore retributive punishment was not warranted. Also because the juvenile court proceedings were not criminal, children were not entitled to the full scale of due process protections afforded to adult criminals. This informality permitted the court to consider all facts relevant to determining the child's reformation plan, such as school, family, and community obligations. These changes in due process led to petitions replacing criminal complaints, summons replacing warrants, custody replacing arrest, detention replacing confinement, initial hearings replacing arraignments, and delinquency replacing conviction. Juvenile courts had broad discretion to innovate rehabilitation programs that were not always available in adult courts. Technical evidentiary rules were also inapplicable in juvenile court because they impeded the judge from determining all facts necessary to establish a proper individualized treatment. In the early 1970's it became apparent that the informal procedures and almost unrestrained discretion of juvenile court judges often supplied minors with less-fair procedures and treatment than adults received. In addition, it was thought that the juvenile court's goal of individualized treatment often lacked objective criteria and conflicted with proper notions of justice. Many were also upset by the lack of due process procedures and the protection of the juvenile's individual rights. In the late 1980's and early 90's numerous acts were imposed by congress as a part of the “get tough on crime” initiative. These laws established the ability for juveniles to be tried in adult courts and some states also lowered the majority age of juveniles to be tried in adult courts. During this period, punishment rather than retribution was the main focus of our court system and society. Today, we have moved away from the “tough love” trends of the 90's and turned our focus back to the more rehabilitative approach. Stakeholders are extremely important to the success of juvenile diversion practices. These stakeholders include all persons who have vested interests in the diversion process. These can include youth who have come into contact with law enforcement (or who seem to be "at-risk" for involvement with juvenile court) and have chosen to participate in diversion programs rather than go through formal court processing. Another section of stakeholders are parents and or guardians. Parental participation is required and enforced in some programs however it is not required in others. Never the less, required or not, parental participation is vital to diversion programs' success. These programs not only aim to improve family communication, but they provide parents with the skills and support to be more effective in providing guidelines and support to their child. These stakeholders can also include county attorneys, juvenile court judges, diversion coordinators, law enforcement officials, extended family members; teachers; county commissioners; community-based organizations; and attorneys representing the youth involved and. The success of diversion programs depends on communication between these groups of stakeholders. Juvenile diversion programs seek to improve a youth's self-image, social skills, and attitude about the legal system, and aims to teach the youth better methods of communication. The goal of juvenile diversion programs is to reduce the rates of youth being rearrested. These diversion programs can consist of many different types. Programs such as probation, community service, counseling, after school programs, and a multitude of others. Even despite the many interventions in place to deter juvenile delinquency, crimes committed by juveniles will, unfortunately, continue to occur. Therefore there will continue to be a push from society, media, and legislators to continue to treat kids as adults and keep punishments as the main focus. In my opinion, rehabilitation should always be the center focus when dealing with juveniles. At some point, these juveniles will become adults and we will require them to be productive members of society. This is all the more reason for us to rehabilitate our juvenile offenders at first offense rather than treating them like adults and delving out punishments.

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