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In the United States we have two parallel systems that deal with individuals that commit crimes and or offenses against society. First we have the criminal justice system, a court which deals with adults who commit various crimes. Secondly, we have the juvenile justice system, a court designed especially for minors and is generally thought to help rehabilitate the offender. The salient difference between these two systems, as Mitcheal Ritter puts it, “is the use of distinct terminology to refer to their similar procedures. State and federal legislatures intended this terminological variation to avoid stigmatizing children as “criminals” and to dissociate the juvenile system from the criminal justice system” (Ritter 2010, 222).
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The major issue I intend to look at it is whether or not we should abolish the juvenile justice system. First, we will look at the position of keeping the current system, why it needs to stay in place, and why in the long run it is the most beneficial to the juvenile. Second, we will examine the research of Barry Feld, one of the most influential advocates on why it needs to be abolished because of the lack of constitutional rights that a juvenile does not receive while being tried under the Juvenile justice system. Thirdly, I will be looking at each party’s positions and critiquing it to see it what the strong and weak points are. Finally, I will present my own opinion on whether to keep it, abolish it, or create a whole new system altogether.
Presentation of Position A: Do Not Abolish the Juvenile System
To try a juvenile in adult court is by no means the right decision. In this section we will look at evidence and arguments on why the juvenile justice system should not be abolished.
Juveniles are different from adults and therefore should not be allowed to stand trial in the criminal justice system. Children are not well enough developed mentally, as compared to an adult, to be tried in the adult correctional system. This is why many people take the stance, “no way should we get rid of the juvenile justice system.” The “director of the state’s (Washington) Bureau of Juvenile Detention Services is seeking to keep 16- and 17-year-old offenders out of the state’s criminal justice system” (McNeil 2008). To lock up a child in an adult correction facility is by no means the right idea even if they are “separate” from the adults.
If a juvenile commits an “adult crime” like robbery, theft or in most cases drug crimes, a quick fix is to incarcerate that individual in an adult prison to punish him and protect society. While this may work for adults, it is inappropriate for a youth. Advocates argue that we must keep the juvenile justice system because “many studies also have found that significantly harsher punishments are meted out to juveniles in adult court when compared with juveniles in juvenile court, particularly for serious or violent offenses” (Kurlycheck and Johnson 2010, 727). Sending a juvenile to adult court at such a young age can be problematic for the child, because the court wants to be strict with the child by showing them that their behavior will not be tolerated and because in adult court the child will miss out on educational and rehabilitative programs more readily available in juvenile detention facilities. Kurlycheck and Johnson argue that “Juvenile courts are characterized by disposition options that fundamentally differ from adult courts in their symbolic meaning, punitive and treatment alternatives, and punishment goals” (2010). In a study in Pennsylvania, Kurlycheck and Johnson compared a sample of juveniles tried in juvenile court with juveniles who were transferred to adult court and showed that the adult courts were harsher on the juvenile: “On average, their sentences were 80 percent more severe than for their young adult counterparts” (Kurlycheck and Johnson 2010, 729).
Juveniles should not be allowed to be tried in adult court because studies have shown that many “juveniles function at levels similar to disabled adults who lack competence; not because of diagnosable mental health problems, but because of developmental immaturity” (Katner 2006, 507). The theory that sentencing a youth to an adult prison will reduce recidivism and hope that the experience will “scare him straight,” is invalid. Research shows that “experiences with adult jails and prisons show that those facilities may instill fear but are otherwise emotionally-and often physically-dangerous for youth” (Butler 2011, 114). Finally, Frank Zimring argued that “young law violators are less culpable, and thus deserve less punishment-no matter what kind of court might try and sentence them” (Kurlycheck and Johnson 2010, 729). Kurlycheck and Johnson also confirm what Katner is saying by explaining that “adolescents are at psychosocial disadvantages in terms of responsibility, peer influence, temperance, and perspective; they are less able to foresee future consequences of their actions” (Kurlycheck and Johnson 2010, 729). Youths in the detention system have an average IQ of 85, as compared to the national average of 100, and about 60% “in detention meet the criteria for at least one mental disorder” (Butler 2011, 111).
Research by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., director of Systems Research at the National Center of Juvenile Justice, shows that ” 68% of committed males were diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and research indicates that the percentage is greater for females in commitment facilities, 50% of committed males had a substance abuse diagnosis” (Katner 2006, 509). If a youth has a mental illness “then it is our responsibility to address those needs. A state has no right to refuse adjudicated juveniles. It is the juvenile justice system’s legal and ethical responsibility to admit them, and make provisions for their safe and secure care and treatment” (Smith 2012). The American Public Health Association found in their Cox proportional hazard study “that better mental health services reduced the risk of initial and subsequent juvenile justice involvement by 31%” (Foster, Qaseem, and Connor, 2004) and had stronger results with more serious offenders. Their findings said that “improved mental health services reduced the risk of juvenile justice involvement” (Foster, Qaseem, and Connor, 2004).
“We must remember that the juvenile justice system is meant to reduce recidivism, help the individual with their struggles, and integrate them back into the community. “When a juvenile offender is reintegrated into the community after a year being counseled, treated, and taught, the community is safer than it would be if that same delinquent youth were incarcerated for five years and released with no preparation to respect himself and society and to avoid repeating the same behavior. In Missouri, for example, only 8 percent of juvenile delinquents return to the justice system within three years; the national average is over 50 percent” (House 2010). “Decreasing recidivism has both immediate and long-term benefits. It has been estimated that juveniles who become adult offenders cost society between $1.5 and $1.8 million each” (Macomber, Skiba, Blackmon, Esposito, Hart, Mambrino, Richie, Grigorenko 2010, 224). Therefore, successful education is one of the most important tools that a juvenile can have while locked up. According to the Journal of Correctional Education, quality education and successful employment “is viewed, unequivocally, as the most powerful tool in recidivism reduction, rehabilitation of juvenile delinquent [â€¦]into a socially productive, healthy, and happy adult” (Macomber, Skiba, Blackmon, Esposito, Hart, Mambrino, Richie, Grigorenko 2010, 225). However, the article does note that the level of education that is delivered to juveniles while incarcerated is nationally recognized as being far from as effective as it should be.
Society wants our youths to succeed, be successful, and be normal members of society. That is why many advocates believe in keeping them out of the criminal justice system because they want to help bring these individuals back into society. Advocates for this system believe that juvenile justice systems are the best because once a juvenile is locked up in an adult correctional system, that individual “will have a criminal record that follows them for life, which would not be the case if they had been tried in family court” (McNeil 2008). Once a child is labeled as a criminal in society (labeling theory,) not only will it be hard for him to apply for a job with his adult criminal record, he will also carry the label of “criminal” over his head while back in society.
Presentation of Position B: Abolish the Juvenile System
In this section we will be looking at why it is a good idea to abolish the juvenile justice system. Barry Feld is one of the major advocates for abolishing the juvenile justice system. He believes the system should be thrown out because juveniles are frequently not afforded their constitutional rights in juvenile court.
Barry Feld, a law professor from the U of M and an expert on the juvenile justice system, says the juvenile justice system needs to be abolished. He claims that “within the past three decades, judicial decisions, legislative amendments, and administrative changes have transformed the juvenile court from a nominally rehabilitative social welfare agency into a scaled-down, second-class criminal court for young people. These reforms have converted the historical ideal of the juvenile court as a social welfare institution into a penal system that provides young offenders with neither therapy nor justice” (Feld 1997, 68). In light of these failures, Feld is proposing that the juvenile court be integrated into the traditional criminal court system.
Feld talks about how the juvenile justice system lacks constitutional rights for youth offenders. Several important Supreme Court decisions help change and shape the “criminalization” of the juvenile court. In the case of In Re Winship,”the court required states to prove juvenile delinquency by criminal law’s standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” (Feld 1997, 73). In the U.S. Supreme court case of In Re Gault, the court said that juveniles accused of crimes must be afforded many of the same rights that adults get. These rights would be the 5th amendment of right against self-incrimination, the 6th amendment right to confront witnesses, the right to timely notification of the charges and the right to be represented by an attorney. Even though the Supreme Court ruled this way, Feld says that “lawyers seldom appeared in juvenile courts” and when the juvenile was on trial the “judges did not advise juveniles of their rights” and did not appoint counsel (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 330). Feld cites two associations, the American Bar Association and American Children at risk, that reported that many youths in the juvenile justice system were not represented by counsel and of the lawyers who represented juvenile “lacked adequate training and failed to provide competent representation” (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 330). If this would happen in the criminal justice system, the case would risk dismissal or being overturned on appeal. Even if a juvenile does have a defense lawyer, many attorneys seldom if ever appeal the decision of the juvenile court judge.
Judges are continuing to allow juvenile rights continue to be trampled upon by allowing juveniles to waive their right to an attorney without allowing them to consult with one of their parents or an attorney. Feld and Schaefer say that “in most states, judges gauge juveniles’ waivers of rights by assessing whether they were “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary” under the “totality of the circumstances” test. They rejected special procedures for youths and endorsed the adult standard to evaluate juveniles’ waivers of Miranda rights.” When a juvenile is arrested or brought into custody, he should not be allowed to talk to anyone unless his parent or lawyer is present. Feld wants both the criminal and juvenile system to be combined into one in hopes to reduce many constitutional violations, such as a juvenile waving his right to Miranda warnings. He says that many juveniles do not understand a Miranda warning or counsel advisory well enough to make a valid waiver” (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 331). This is a major risk for first time offenders because they may not know what they are agreeing to. Juveniles who have gone through the system before may start to get a grasp on the concept of Miranda about as well as adults but “substantial minorities of both groups failed to grasp at least some elements of the warning” (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 331).
To help reduce these constitutional violations, Feld believes that state courts should “adopt sentencing guidelines for juveniles, which now exist only in adult courts” (Furst 1991). Feld believes that many sentences are based on “where the juvenile lived than the crime” (Furst, 1991). In Feld’s study, “urban criminals face stiffer penalty,” he found that “urban juveniles receive harsher sentences for the same crimes than their rural and suburban counterparts” (Furst 1991). Felt said that urban courts detained youths that were charged with felonies around the time; “rural counties detained them one-tenth of the time and suburban counties one-thirteenth” (Furst 1991). Feld says that “no reasons exist to believe that rural youths are more competent than urban juveniles to waive legal rights, but rural judges appoint attorneys far less often than do their more formal, urban counterparts” (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 332). Feld says that juveniles are very immature and lack a lot of experience. They require the assistance of counsel to understand legal proceedings, to prepare and present a defense, to negotiate guilty pleas, and to ensure fair adjudications (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 350). How is it fair that adults can have lawyers present at their trial and not juveniles? He says that increased efforts to have lawyers present at juveniles trials have remained the same. Feld says that with his data from 1994 and 1999 have predicted the outcome for youths to receive attorneys present at trial. The data is quite surprising that “youths convicted of felony and status offenses show a decrease in odds of representation, whereas youths convicted of misdemeanor offenses show an increase in the odds of having an attorney” (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 349).
One of the most important rights we have in our judicial system is the right to a jury trial. However, Feld argues is that while the right to a jury trial “is a crucial procedural safeguard when states punish offenders, the vast majority of jurisdictions uncritically follow McKeivers lead and deny juveniles access to juries ” (Feld 1997, 87). When judges and juries apply Winship, the reasonable doubt standard, differently, it allows them to convict youths more easily in juvenile court than in adult criminal court with the same evidence.
Feld say that the constitution as well as state juvenile statutes allow delinquents to have formal trials with attorneys present. But in reality the actual quality of representation that the juvenile receives is far from optimum. One of his reasons for abolishing the juvenile justice system is because “the criminalization of juvenile courts, most states provide neither special procedures to protect youths from their own immaturity nor the full panoply of adult procedural safeguards. Instead, states treat juveniles just like adult criminal defendants when treating them equally places youth at a practical disadvantage” (Feld 1997, 87).
Feld argues that some scholars believe that rehabilitative juvenile court or a juvenile version of a criminal court “simply will not work as their supporters intend” (Crawford 2001). Because of this, Felt proposes that an integrated criminal court would be a better solution. He believes this model is the best because “society recognizes youths as being less mature and more susceptible to peer influence” (Crawford 2001) so the court could offer what he calls “youth discounts” for sentencing. This would take into consideration the youth’s age and apply it towards his crime. In his model he is not talking about crime reduction, “remove what he considers to be the drama of waivers to adult courts” (Crawford 2001). Feld claims it will remove double talk and hypocrisy because justice officials claim rehabilitation as their goal when the reality of their actions is coercion and punishment” (Crawford 2001). As long as the youth discount is integrated into the criminal court system, it can provide youth offenders with better legal protection, ensure they are granted the same constitutional rights that adults get, and most importantly, that juveniles would receive humane consequences from judges.
Feld agrees that youths do deserve shorter sentences compared to adults when being tried for “comparable crimes.” However, there does not need to be separate courts for this. Feld says that the juvenile court system will not survive because it represents a “temporary way-station on the road to substantive and procedural convergence with the criminal court” (Feld 1997, 132). For both of these court systems to work, Feld says there must be an “integrated criminal justice that formally recognizes adolescent as a development continuum may effectively address many of the problems created by our binary conceptions of youth and social control” (Feld 1997, 132).
Critique of Positions
Advocates for the juvenile justice system believe that juveniles should have their own court system. In order for the juveniles to be properly protected, educated and rehabilitated, there cannot be two systems. Many juveniles are not sufficiently mentally developed to stand trial in the adult court system. Recall that The American Public Health Association said that “better mental health services reduced the risk of initial and subsequent juvenile justice involvement by 31%” (Foster, Qaseem, and Connor, 2004). Once the juvenile entered the detention center and was given appropriate care and treatment, the risk of juvenile justice involvement in the future was reduced.
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Many advocates argue that we must keep the juvenile justice system because “many studies â€¦ have found that significantly harsher punishments are meted out to juveniles in adult court when compared with juveniles in juvenile court, particularly for serious or violent offenses” (Kurlycheck and Johnson 2010, 727). The study said that of the juveniles tried in adult court, about 80% received harsher punishments compared to their youth counterparts. In order for us to have fair trial systems we cannot try youth with the same standards of adult.
Advocates also believe that a juvenile should not be locked up in any adult facility because it would set the child up for more harm from stronger and more powerful adults. Research has shown that “experiences with adult jails and prisons show that those facilities may instill fear but are otherwise emotionally-and often physically-dangerous for youth” (Butler 2011, 114). I do not see any advantage to put a juvenile in the same cell or facility of another adult. The juvenile justice system is meant to rehabilitate the offender, not make him worse. We want the child to come out better than when he went in. In the adult court the minor would leave with a criminal record which could negatively affect his chances at getting a job once released. In juvenile court their record is usually protected.
I do agree with what Feld says about having a juvenile be granted his constitutional right to an attorney, jury trial and correct understanding to Miranda warnings. He makes a big case about how juveniles are rarely granted these rights. I strongly agree with Feld’s statement regarding this. Many of these youth are waving their right to an attorney without the knowledge of what the consequences might be. Because some judges are allowing this to happen in the juvenile court, Feld make a convincing argument for these youth to be tried in an adult court. This may prevent any further constitutional violations. If an adult was treated this way, the case would have a high probability of being thrown out. If a juvenile is not granted these rights, there is no way he can expect a fair trial. Feld is correct that courts need to follow In Re Winship and In Re Gault. These are the rights granted to the juvenile, for a judge not to follow them would be unprofessional and most of all unconstitutional.
Feld says that the juvenile court system will not survive because it represents a “temporary way-station on the road to substantive and procedural convergence with the criminal court” (Feld 1997, 132). I do not agree with this at all. In the juvenile justice system is designed help rehabilitate the offender, if the system is to work correctly; it will not be a temporary way-station. I do recognize that there are some fall backs to the system, but it needs to be run correctly.
The idea of “youth discounts,” if implemented correctly could work. However judges might over abuse their power towards the juvenile. These youth discounts would be totally up to the discretion of the judge. This could pose a problematic issue for the youth if the judge does not follow the guidelines of “youth discounts.” If judges cannot follow constitutional guidelines of Winship and Gaulti do not believe they would be able to follow a rule of youth discounts. Feld has a good idea behind his youth discounts, however I do not believe judges would follow these rules.
His last argument is that youths do deserve shorter sentences compared to adults when being tried for “comparable crimes.” If the juvenile system is abolished this concept would have to be enforce. I still see it being problematic for the child to serve time in an adult facility. We want to rehabilitate the child, not solely focus on punishing him or her. There is no telling how this system would be implemented. A judge could use this power to unfairly sentence certain youth to longer sentences the he deems necessary. As I have stated earlier, juveniles have different maturity and educational levels compared to adults. That is why many of these youths still need to be tried in a system where a judge is specialized in juvenile crimes.
Now that we have had a chance to examine the arguments for and against abolishing the juvenile system, our issue is which side should we take and why? It is difficult to pick one side, and therefore I propose a hybrid version. Using strengths from both sides, I believe we can come to a conclusion that will be most beneficial for the juvenile, and our court system, and one that will meet constitutional standards. In order to accomplish all of this we will be looking at concepts, resources, and management. Applying all three of these criteria we will be able to see why the combination of them will result in the best outcome. We will be ending the juvenile system as it currently exists, but instead of getting rid of it all together, there will be some changes to the “adult system” to help incorporate these new guidelines.
As I have stated multiple times above, our concept of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate the offender and get the child ready to be brought back into society again. If the juvenile justice is to work correctly it would give the juvenile the necessary skills to be brought back into society. Society accepts this concept because the juvenile is still young, and society is willing to give that individual another chance. Society believes this because the juvenile is put under the ‘obligation’ to grow himself/herself to be fitted to the perceived values of the society. If this is done successfully, the concept of rehabilitation has worked successfully
Currently the juvenile justice system needs to be combined with parts of the adult system to work effectively. Mainly, the concept of having a fair trial is something all adults get in “adult court.” The juvenile justice system offers the minor educational and mental help through trained and effective services; something that the adult court rarely offers. It has also been stated that the juvenile dentation centers are better at offering rehabilitate skills through classes such as anger management which is essential to any delinquent wanting to enter society again. If the juvenile was just thrown into an adult correction facility, there is a slim chance that he would have access to the proper education that he would need. It is unlikely that the adult system has classes targeted for their needs. As I have stated earlier from the research, juveniles are far less mental and educationally developed compared to adults, that is why a system to house juveniles is still the best system. The adult system houses individuals from 18 on up. If the delinquent is rehabilitated in a facility with individuals his own age, this might provide a better learning environment. The adult system is more focused on punishing the individual for their crimes and second, to possibly rehabilitated the adult offender. In a juvenile dentation center, their main goal is to rehabilitate the offender, not solely punish them for their crimes. Therefore, the juvenile justice system must take into account the opportunity to grow as a good person without any kind of stigma attached. Part of their rehabilitative process might involve apologizing to the victim. This would result in no father threat to the victim, and help the offender to know the impact of his crime. The last concept is if the juvenile is to be properly rehabilitated he needs to be in a safe environment, one that is targeted for his age group and level of education. While in the detention center, he or she is given the chance to learn and be properly educated, a skill that he or she might not have received while in the “outside world.”
Barry Feld makes a convincing argument for abolishing the juvenile justice system with his argument that it does not afford the juvenile his constitutional rights. He believes that in order to fix this issue, the juvenile justice system need to be abolished and merged with the adult system. We are using Feld’s idea to merge the system but not abolish the resources and many benefits that come with the juvenile justice system. We will be using not one system but a hybrid of both. We must think of it as a system that only exists on paper not in different court systems.
To award trial by jury, Miranda warnings, and the right to counsel only to adults does not represent a fair and balanced justice system. Juveniles must have the same rights that adults are entitled to. If an adult was arrested, questioned by police, brought to court without legal representation and informed the judge of all these violations, the case and evidence would be thrown out. That is why when creating this hybrid system we are using Feld’s resource of the adult court to create a new justice system for juveniles to ensure they are awarded all the rights adults are.
First and foremost, juveniles must be accorded their constitutional rights. Juveniles are by definition young, inexperienced, and not as mentally and emotionally developed as adults. Special protections must be given to them to insure that they are granted their rights. Judges are continuing to allow juveniles to waive their right to Miranda when many are not aware of what they are without a parent or legal advisor. Juveniles who have gone through the system before may start to get a grasp on the concept of Miranda about as well as adults but “substantial minorities of both groups failed to grasp at least some elements of the warning” (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 331). Even if a lawyer was appointed, they (the lawyer) “seldom appeared in juvenile courts” and when the juvenile was on trial the “judges did not advise juveniles of their rights” and did not appoint counsel (Feld and Schaefer 2010, 330). Feld makes a major point of In Re Winship and In Re Gault (discussed above) to prove that even though these are laws exists, many courts overlook or ignore them, ultimately denying juveniles their rights to a fair trial. Constitutional rights cannot be overlooked, which is why I believe Feld’s argument of abolishing the juvenile justice system as it stands has merit, and the advantages of the adult system must be incorporated, without the negative consequences to juveniles. I propose that no juvenile be allowed to waive his Miranda rights without first consulting with a court appointed attorney. I further propose that no juvenile be allowed to waive his right to attorney, as can be done in adult court. Every juvenile should be represented by an attorney throughout the case.
I propose that the juvenile have the right to a trial by jury in all felony offenses. If the offense is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, the juvenile would still be tried before the juvenile court judge. In both misdemeanor/gross misdemeanor and felony level offenses, however, the dispositional alternatives would be within the traditional juvenile court system. There would be no adult sentencing in any misdemeanor/gross misdemeanor offense, and no adult sentencing for felony level offenses without the juvenile being certified to stand trial as an adult.
Without good dispositional alternatives, we will not be able to make our hybrid juvenile system work. I am using this hybrid system to represent all non-serious crimes. One of the most important systems that needs to be retained is the educational system. As discussed earlier, “successful education is one of the most important tools that a juvenile can have while locked up.” If this is eliminated any hope of rehabilitating the juvenile goes out the window. One of the main goals of the juvenile justice system if to reduce the recidivism rate and to rehabilitate the individual with the skills necessary to return them to society. This will require enhanced special education opportunities. Many of the juveniles who are incarcerated have an average IQ of 85, as compared to national average of 100. So, even if they did attend public school, one study put their “literacy skills [â€¦] at least one standard deviation or two years behind” (Macomber, Skiba, Blackmon, Esposito, Hart, Mambrino, Richie, Grigorenko 2010, 225) their school mates in the same grade. To make sure this educational program will work, part of what I am proposing is that the court must require these individuals to participate. Math and reading are generally key important educational programs, but the detention facility also needs to offer other programs such as anger management, developing social skill, and educational classes on a variety of areas that the juvenile might lack. If the juvenile does not agree to these terms and conditions, they will be tried in adult court and sentenced to the adult correctional facility.
It is not just education that many of these juveniles lack. Some 68% of committed males were diagnosed with some kind of mental health disorder, along with 50% of committed males having a substance abuse diagnosis. If these juveniles were put into the adult program, these issues might not ever be recognized or if they were, risk a high chance of never being treated. We need to provide adequate psychological support services to those who need them. If a youth has a mental illness “then it is our responsibility to address those needs. A state has no right to refuse adjudicated juveniles. It is the juvenile justice system’s legal and ethical responsibility to admit them, and make provisions for their safe and secure care and treatment” (Smith 2012). If these mental issues are treated right now versus in the future, it very well might drastically reduce the recidivism rate. It has been estimated that juveniles who become adult offenders cost society between $1.5 and $1.8 million each” (Macomber, Skiba, Blackmon, Esposito, Hart, Mambrino, Richie, Grigorenko 2010, 224). This will ultimately be a substantial saving to the taxpayers, free up the jail for serious offenders, and get juveniles the help that many of them desperately need.
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