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The Juvenile Justice System has many positive aspects of how they operate and their goals for juveniles. The main goal is to rehabilitate juveniles rather than punish them. I think that this is a positive factor for juveniles into molding them to be positive role models in society. Along with this factor are the services that the system provides such as mental health counseling, treatment programs for addiction and anger management. At the sentencing hearing the judge will decide what services will be ordered and what conditions the juvenile and parents must fulfill. Before the hearing, a probation officer will investigate the case by interviewing the family and other people to gather information to help the judge make a disposition. The judge may also order evaluations such as psychological, substance abuse, medical, etc. At the hearing the judge will consider the evaluations, reports, and statements made by all parties, including the victim (Winder, 2009). Court appointed Special advocates (CASA) are other positive aspects of the juvenile system. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children (The CASA Story, 2010). CASA's are important roles in the juvenile system they give a voice to these juveniles in the court system. The separation of status offenders and juvenile delinquents is another aspect of the juvenile system that I agree with. This separation allows status offenders to understand the severity of their behavior yet it does not fully involve them in the juvenile system as far as detention centers and in sentencing. Although the courts do not let this behavior go unpunished the system takes on the role of using the doctrine of parens patriae, and looks out for the best interest of the child.
As with any system there are also changes that can be made to improve the juvenile system. The paper work that is required for police officers is time consuming and burdensome the courts should find alternatives matters to the petition forms. I think also think that juveniles should be afforded the right to have a trial jury and should have evidentiary hearing in their cases. Even though juvenile courts hold proceedings in the directions of civil proceedings there should be a separation of family matters versus criminal matters. In 1971, the United States Supreme Court held that jury trials are not constitutionally required in juvenile court hearings. McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, and as of 2001 legislative session, there was either statute or case law in 30 jurisdictions that specifically stated that juvenile delinquents have no right to a jury trial, under any circumstances in juvenile court. However, 10 states allow jury trials for juveniles as a right and additional 11 states provide jury trials for juveniles in juvenile court only under limited special circumstances. These special circumstances include such things as: juveniles tried under extended juvenile jurisdiction prosecution procedures; juveniles who may be subject to sentencing in an adult correctional facility; serious violent offenders; and repeat juvenile offender (Szymanski, 2002). I feel that juvenile delinquents that are tried in juvenile court; are not given the complete scope of their rights as adult defendants receive in criminal court, such as a trial by jury. Considering they face the risk of adult criminal sentencing or confinement in adult correctional facilities, they should have the increasing protections of their constitutional rights and have jury trials, in juvenile courts. In juvenile court the evidentiary hearing is the same as a trial, where as in adult court there are actual hearings to determine whether any of the offender's constitutional rights have been violated. I think that juveniles should be entitled to an evidentiary hearing to protect them against an unreasonable arrest or detention. Also to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the juvenile.
The juvenile system follows a process as we learned in during this course. Contact with law enforcement, possible detention, the intake processes, the arraignment and then the evidentiary hearing where the judge determines to juveniles guilt and sentencing (Vachon, 2010). The main goal during these hearings is to rehabilitate the juvenile much like the Progressive Era of 1900 where Americans saw the increase of women's rights and activism against child labor and labor reform. Prior to this era most juvenile offenders were imprisoned with adult offenders and for this period of time it was an acceptable practice. During the 18th and 19th century's views on this practice shifted on how juvenile delinquents were treated. Political and social reformers believed in rehabilitation for juvenile offenders and wanted alternative housing for juvenile offenders rather than to house them with adult offenders; therefore in 1824 the New York House of Refuge was built. This home was a model for other states and soon they began to build reformatory homes for youth offenders and in 1855 the Chicago Reform School opened. These changes in the criminal justice system established that society was responsible for how juvenile offenders were treated and that they were responsible for making positive changes in their lives prior to becoming caught up in the criminal court system (Vachon, 2010).
There are many factors and social theories that contribute to a juvenile's deviant behavior. Social learning theory is the theory that juveniles learn to engage in crime in the same way they learn to engage in conforming behavior through association with or exposure to others that somehow juveniles are a product of either nature and they are predisposed to certain behavior (Vachon, 2010). Social structure theories assert that the disadvantaged economic class position is a primary cause of crime.Â The theories state that neighborhoods which are "lower class" force of strain, frustration and disorganization that create crime" (Shanali-Justicia). Social Disorganization, Strain Theory and Culture Deviance are a few of the social structure criminology theories that are used to explain crime. Factors such as gender, race, age and social class also affect how a juvenile make become involved in deviant behavior. Studies have shown that over the past few decades that the development of delinquent behavior has been contributed to several factors that include gender, race, age and social class. There is general agreement that behavior, including antisocial and delinquent behavior, is the result of a complex interplay of individual biological and genetic factors and environmental factors, starting during fetal development and continuing throughout life (Vachon, 2010). On the other spectrum the composition of families is one characteristic of family life that is constantly associated with delinquency. Children who come from disrupted homes such as one with single parents or divorce are liable to exhibit behavioral problems that may lead to delinquency. "According to some estimates, as many as 40 percent of white children and 75 percent of African American children will experience parental separation or divorce before they reach age 16 and many of these children will experience multiple family disruptions over time, which can impact a juvenile" (Brown & Demuth, 2000). Other studies imply that lack of parental supervision leads a juvenile to commit delinquent acts (Vachon, 2010).
Over the years the juvenile system has gone through many changes since its inception in 1899 the courts has always had the juvenile's best interest. The court takes on the role of the parent to protect the child in the court processes. From the initial contact with the officer where they give the officer the discretion to detain the juvenile or release them to their parents, to sentencing where the court determines the sentencing. The court is always mindful to protect the child and to attempt to mold them into positive members of society. As time progresses we will continue to see many changes in the juvenile system. The court is seeing a new breed of juveniles in their midst and will have to make changes to their system in accordance, but I believe that they will continue to act in the best interest of the child.