Juvenile offences have been on the increase and this has over time been regarded as a "major social problem (Siegel, 2008)." Many strategies and policies have been directed towards helping curb the problem since the 1970s and 1980s. Among the policies that have emerged are the "graduated sanctions" and the "zero tolerance policy" within the juvenile justice system. The two propose different approaches to the issue based on their assumptions and adopt different measures in the consequences mandated for the juvenile offenders. Both have one goal but adopt separate paths in ensuring the goal is achieved. The "zero tolerance approach" however fails by not ensuring that the offender is adequately paid attention to, as it puts more emphasis on the penalty. The graduated sanctions on the other hand, appropriately look at the nature of the offence committed and the severity in delivering the deserved consequences (Siegel, 2008). It is a better method but is not perfect though and combining the two may be most convenient in tackling the problem.
It is unfortunate that violence in the population youth has significantly grown in the recent past. This increasing trend is not only seen in the regions of the country, but also recorded all a round the world (Edwards, 2008).
The "Zero tolerance policy" in the juvenile system requires the authorities concerned with juvenile behavior in the society "to have no tolerance for their behaviors in question (Carpenter, 2011)." The juvenile behaviors in the schools that are regulated by zero tolerance are of an extreme nature and the governing bodies regard that they should attract stringent penalties for the perpetrators (Siegel, 2008). The behaviors include carrying of weapons to school, use of drugs and alcohol, selling of drugs, physical assault, sexual harassment, bullying and excessive truancy. According to Siegel and Welsh (2008), many schools have adopted zero tolerance against these and due notification is made to the parents and guardians together with the penalty they attract. This is usually suspension or expulsion from school. Critics of the policy have argued that it is unfair in including such tough consequences for even some behaviors that may seem relatively lighter such as bullying. They have also criticized the fact that zero tolerance advocates for the immediate punishment even for first offenders whose case may be unique, such as in juveniles with special needs or one who may be coerced by peer pressure into doing the punishable act, and should not deserve such extreme penalties. The policy however, "mandates specific consequences together with punishments for the delinquent acts" and behaviors, and does "not allow anyone to avoid the specified consequences (Siegel, 2008)."
Graduated sanctions on the other hand, advocates for the justice system to offer the "penalties according to the nature of the crimes committed and their severity (Taxman, 1999)." The policy implies that "the penalties for the delinquent behavior should move from the more restrictive penalties", as proposed by zero tolerance, and graduated to "according to the relative extent of severity and involving other factors" including past delinquencies if the juvenile is not a first offender. "Types of the graduated sanctions include" the immediate, intermediate and restrictive sanctions (Siegel, 2008)." The immediate sanctions applies to the case of "the nonviolent offenders", while the intermediate sanctions are targeted towards the minor offenders (especially the repeat offenders) and "the first time serious offenders". The more restrictive sanctions include the measures reserved for "the most dangerous of the juvenile offenders". The "graduated sanctions" increase gradually in restrictions and the intensity of the consequences mandated as punishment, as the "offenders move from minor offences to more serious offenses (Siegel, 2008)."
The "graduated sanctions" have been seen to be fairer as applied within the system of justice in regard to juvenile matters than "the zero tolerance strategy." It has been accorded by many as more justified in its application within the system and has been advocated for by many parents, guardians and teachers among other stakeholders (Taxman, 1999). It has been criticized though for giving second chances to some serious offenders who deserve to be expelled from school, with many of "the repeat offenders" finally ending up in committing serious juvenile crimes.
The debate on which of the two policies is appropriate in addressing the delinquency issue within the juvenile systems has been ongoing for along time. The question on which policy will serve the system best has raised many answers. Some have the extreme opinion of doing away with either of the two. The two policies can be appropriately applied together in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the juvenile justice system.
The country has over the years experienced rising cases of delinquents and many questions have been asked concerning appropriate measures of containing the unfavorable situation. The young generations are the future f the country and as a result, the situation deserved great attention from the government authorities, experts on juvenile matters, the justice system together with the parents and teachers. The "juvenile justice and delinquency prevention act of 1974" brought the concept that led to removal of the juvenile offenders from the secure confinements and incarceration, as many had seen the initial measures as "overused" and inappropriate for "the young delinquents," particularly "the nonviolent offenders." The incarceration of these offenders was also deemed to having achieved little in changing their delinquent behaviors; "the 'lock them up' mentality for juveniles" only makes the situation worse and hampers the chances for rehabilitation (Cotterell, 2008). These surrounding circumstances in their justice led to the re-structuring of the existing policies and drafting of new and relevant policies in curbing the problem and ensuring all the involved strategies focused towards achieving improved behavior and academic performance in the delinquents.
There have been changes over time on the term and "the meaning of graduated sanctions (Taxman, 1999)." According to Taxman and Soule (1999), it was synonymously used with "intermediate punishment and intermediate sanctions in the 1980s. In that context, it "referred to the correctional programs", that were "designed to serve as alternatives to incarceration", and/ or to "expand the sentencing options", for the juvenile offenders (Taxman, 1999). The "term zero tolerance was first used in the early 1990s", and the proposed assumptions of the concept, were quickly adopted by schools and other institutions of learning, with the view of reducing and curbing delinquent behaviors.
Both of the strategies have been popularly applied within the systems of justice in view of juvenile issues, albeit with different strategies based on the difference in assumptions.
The "zero tolerance" and "the graduated sanctions" policies have been of great use in regard to the juveniles within justice systems, but they are based on entirely different assumptions. The two have huge differences in the system with propositions that impact on the mandated penalties and other resulting consequences of the committed offences.
"Zero tolerance" does not significantly, take into consideration the fact that," the psychological immaturity of 'the juveniles' affects their decision making in matters within the contexts relevant to justice (Scott, 2008)."
On the other hand, the "graduated sanctions" proposes a series of measures and penalties that graduate with "the nature and severity" of the offence involved, as it has been discussed within the preceding sections. The policy in its application gives clear guidelines in the range of the juvenile offences involved and "their mandated sanctions." In its application, "graduated sanctions" incorporate correctional and rehabilitative measures for behavioral change of the young offenders (Taxman, 1999).
Juvenile offenders are by far different from the adult offenders and this is an essential fact in regulating juvenile offences (Scott, 2008). The young offenders may not have enough knowledge and information on the severe implications of the delinquent behavior on the live and at many times, are pressured by their peers into committing the offences. The "zero tolerance policy" automatically gives the authorities the complete freedom of awarding the inherently severe penalties to the juvenile. The stiff consequences are meted out to the "apparently deserving" youth without as much as a background check on the factors involved. The fact that the juvenile offender caught in the act of bullying other minors may have special needs or may have been forced by peers, would not suffice in helping the cause of the offender. Other factors, such as being a first offender may not be considered resulting in lighter penalties, but that the offender will face the full extent of the mandated punishment. Most offenders are expelled from the schools without a second chance and "repeat offenders" may be forced to change school after school if correctional strategies do not aid in modifying their delinquent behavior. In its application, the policy has a greater implying perspective in its presentation of the resulting penalties as "the motivating factor for behavioral change within the juvenile justice system."
The "graduated sanctions policy," on the other hand, have the assumption that the different juvenile offences deserve different measures of sanctions and penalties, and not a "blanket consequence" as proposed by "zero tolerance." It also assumes that the "juvenile offenders can have another chance" in life by change their behavior, with its incorporation of correctional programs "for behavior change." The basic assumption that behavior change is most effective in curbing this social problem is the key to the success of this policy (Siegel, 2008).
The "zero tolerance strategy" definitely has its place in the system, especially in addressing the serious and violent offences which are deemed by the majority to be of a deserving nature in attracting the stiff and strong punishment "within the juvenile systems," but its problem lies with its assumption.
This is a "long embedded social problem" within all regions of the country (Cotterell, 2008). "Zero tolerance" greatly fails in solving the delinquencies within the schools and the society because it offers no opportunity for correctional and rehabilitative measures for the purpose of inducing behavioral change in the affected youths. The offenders are not given much option in explaining their circumstances and it results to wasted opportunity in giving the appropriate guidance and advice to the young youth, who may not have fully grasped the impending consequences of the actions. Not listening to the offenders and not giving the demanded attention, only serves to alienate them leading to resentment and as a result the offender will most likely harden in their behavior and grow up into adult crime.
"Zero tolerance" does indeed play a huge role in ensuring that these juvenile offences are kept to a possible minimum. The approach may further be made effective and fair in collaborating it with "the graduated sanction" in its application.
The "graduated sanction policy" is the one most suited of the two, in its approach and in the way it applies strategies and programs focusing on "behavioral change of the young offenders". The "change in attitude and behavior" of these offenders is a better guarantee in them not repeating the offences in future, and will prevent them from advancing into adult crime. The policy gives the first time delinquents a much deserved chance in correcting themselves, with the repeat offenders accorded the opportunity of getting the appropriate attention that will help in unearthing the real issues involved and suitable measures applied in their case.
In addressing the delinquent issue failure should not be an option (Cotterell, 2008). The graduated sanctions best ensures this and should be the approach to be applied in matters concerning the juvenile's system of justice.
Applying both strategies in the system, in an appropriate and integrative manner, will effectively lead to a more concerted effort in tackling the delinquency problem. Placing more emphasis on "graduated sanctions" will greatly benefit the justice processes aiming at reducing the delinquent recidivism and ensuring the offenders have another chance in their lives. The "graduated sanction policy" has a greater chance of achieving success in "behavioral change of the offenders." This is as a result of proposing "the most suitable and convenient correctional programs," to be assigned to the juvenile offenders. The change in behavior is key, in ensuring the justice system's success in curbing the problem (Siegel, 2008).
This problem starts within the confines of "the family unit". Addressing this at the earliest possible point in the concerned delinquent, would curb the problem early on. This will also ensure that the youth has adequate knowledge on "the consequence of their actions." Parents have the greatest role in incorporating the right values into the lives of their children. By providing good guidance, the parents would ensure they keep their youths away from crime. It has been noted that delinquent youths who have good relationships with the parents and other family members, proceed to have "healthy sense of self." In addition to having "high and positive expectations in life," they subsequently change their behavior for the better (Edwards, 2008). Addressing this issue would require more than the policies, but should involve all members of the society.