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When it comes to the issue of reprimanding juveniles for their wrongful actions the criminal justice system treats these underage offenders differently than adults. When adults come in contact with the criminal justice system little sympathy and leniencies are given to the offender. But the California juvenile criminal justice system or rather the US juvenile criminal justice systems mission it to rehabilitate the offender so that they may be able to function into society. Over the past two decades the pendulum has shifted. Recently society rallies for retribution for victims and our legislative powers have pressed for "tough on crime" policies. Policy makers are pushing the limits of the justice system and this includes the juvenile justice system as well. Juveniles are committing acts of violence that parallel adult violent crimes. Are these juveniles able to rehabilitate back into society or should they be punished just like adult offenders? Many argue giving a child a sentence of 25 years to life is a death sentence as they will likely become career criminals in prison unable to rehabilitate and continue a life within the "system". These tough on crime policies are meant to be a deterrent for juveniles but are they working?
When a juvenile comes into contact with the criminal justice system there are many avenues on which the governing agent (school authority, police officer, and social worker) can lead these delinquents. The intent is to rehabilitate the juvenile not punish. Nearly ninety percent of juvenile county probation departments are referred by law enforcement agencies, less than twenty five percent were detained, many of them are closed at intake but about half of that twenty five percent are taken into juvenile court. But the concern is that more than that Â¾ of juvenile depositions filed in adult court result in a conviction in 2007 (Cooper, Brown, Basco, Yankee, & Towse, 2008).
Most criminal acts committed by juveniles are not done alone; many are committed with their friends or peers. Those with delinquent peers are more likely to be reinforced for crime, taught beliefs favorable to crime, exposed to criminal models, or otherwise pressured or enticed to engage in crime (Akers 1998). According to Shelly Matthews and Robert Agnew's research individuals with delinquent peers may give less consideration to the certainly of punishment when they commit delinquent acts with their peers. Perceived certainty seems to not have a deterrent effect on offending among juveniles with delinquent peers.
As stated above juveniles are committing very violent crimes and in response to this public concern the federal government and state policy makers have amended laws to transfer, waive, refer, or certify juvenile offenders to adult courts for trial and sentencing. The rates of these transfers or waivers are dramatically increasing in the hopes that this may deter other juveniles from committing similar offenses. Much of these policies have ill effects on our juveniles that are transferred that they might receive abuse from adult inmates, lengthy sentencing, and as a consequence increase recidivism because they limit the offender from successfully reintegrating back into society (Redding, 2003). Further research by Richard Redding suggest that transfer laws have only a moderate deterrent effect but those who are transferred produce a higher rate of recidivism.
What we are finding is that many of our juvenile offenders are recidivist continuing to return to the criminal justice system. With this impact the justice system has taken some measures to combat this challenge. As these juvenile offenders leave detention facilities many are controlled through probation or parole contracts, urine testing, electronic monitoring, to ensure public safety (Bouffard & Bergseth, 2008). According to Bouffard and Bergseth's research those who receive exit services upon release from detention are about 10% less likely to receive contact from law enforcement due to new acts of offending. What we are finding is that the system is not deterring delinquency but rather we are treating it.
The policy makers believe that the way to prevent crime is by punishments that are swift, certain, and severe (deterrence theory). Studies that examine the association with perceived certainty of punishment and offending may suggest that policy based on deterrence may not be best used. According to Shelly Matthews and Robert Agnew deterrence studies that are longitudinal and that control the major causes of crime find that perceived certainty have a weak to no effect on offending (Matthews & Agnew, 2008). Many researchers have found that perceived certainty of punishment only deters only some types of people but not others. Agnew and Matthews further consider that by examining the effect of perceived certainty on offending is conditioned by the child's social environment, specifically the juvenile's level of association with delinquent peers. In Raymond Dacey and Kenneth Gallants' research they found that in using deterrence in policy making that the severity of both the punishment of the guilty and the harassment of the innocent, such as the war on crime; may induce criminal behavior among those who are at risk preferring and perceive similar likelihood of being rightfully punished or wrongfully harassed (Dacey & Gallant, 1997).
Juvenile delinquency researchers unanimously agree that adequate aftercare of the delinquent will reduce the likelihood of recidivism and rehabilitate most offenders. Bouffard and Bergseth feel that mentoring delinquents upon release from their "training schools" or detention centers as the most effective means of rehabilitation. A good mentor gives the child motivation not to disappoint their mentor or society. Getting tough on sentencing on our youth as adults is not recommended since once they are in adult prison they receive less rehabilitative and educational services than they would in a juvenile facility and are a greater risk of abuse from other adult inmates. According to Redding incarcerating our youth like our adult offenders only increases the probability of recidivism in the youth.
Legislatures should reevaluate current sentencing laws that were intended to deter offenders, specifically juvenile offenders. Prisons, juvenile detention centers, and probation/parole officers are stretched thinly throughout the state of California due to current budget crisis. The deterrence model of sentencing is not recommended for juveniles or some adult offenders by regarded researchers in the field of criminal justice and those studying it as well. Juveniles can only be harmed by this model as previously stated in this paper. Juveniles need adequate aftercare to prevent and rehabilitate them back into society. Adolescents do not fully comprehend the consequences of their actions and studies suggest that many who do commit felonies in their youth more than likely will not continue to do so as an adult. Researchers as a whole need to find venues to educate the public to sway their perceptions of delinquency than legislatures will be more willing to make the right choices when passing legislative action in juvenile justice.