Good Example Of Research Paper On The Juvenile Justice System In America: An In-Depth View
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Juvenile delinquency, sometimes also called juvenile offending, pertains to criminal acts done by young individuals. In most states, teenagers up to the age of 18 are considered as juvenile, although this age declaration varies for each state. Juvenile delinquency cases are tried at special courts, which is different from adult courts. When a youth is found guilty of a crime, he or she is sent to a juvenile detention center or is brought to a rehabilitation center if crime is drug-related. During this period, the individual attends treatment programs to inhibit the youth from committing crimes in the future. Crimes committed vary from rape, burglary, assault, prostitution, drug abuse, homicide, possession of firearms, and vandalism, among others. This problem has become rampant all over the world, thus, understanding how to take the necessary precautions can help save the lives of possible victims of juvenile delinquents.
Theories Associated with Juvenile Delinquency
Many attempt to point out the real reasons why youths turn into juvenile delinquents. However, only a few of these provide a more logical explanation why children and young adults become one. Following are some of the theories:
The Social Learning Theory as presented by Albert Bandura attempts to draw conclusions as to the real reasons why children and teenagers become juvenile delinquents. According to this theory, people learn through observation. They imitate what they see around them. Thus, when a child observes how his parents behave whether in private or in public places, the child imitates the behavior thinking that what he saw is correct and acceptable (“The Social Learning Theory”). For instance, a child lives in a home environment where domestic violence is a regular occurrence. As the child grows, he or she will think violence is natural and acceptable. If the child is a boy, he then perceives that hurting and controlling women are natural acts towards women. On the other hand, if the child is a girl, she then develops feelings of insecurity and will begin to think that it is natural for men to hurt women. In some cases, other people may be the source of the negative behavior. If a child lives in an environment where stealing is rampant, he also grows up thinking it is alright to take other people’s things. Even a child’s peers and playmates can become sources of negative behavior. Therefore, it is very important for parents to guide their children all throughout their primary and teenage years because when a child develops relationships with youths who prove to be bad influences, chances are, the child becomes one of them and more fights and adversities will ensue.
Another theory that gave rise to the concept of juvenile delinquency is the Social Strain Theory by Robert Merton. According to Merton, children resort to criminal behaviors when they are not able to meet their goals through reasonable methods (Crossman). Furthermore, he believes that children from poor families are more likely to turn into criminals considering they do not have the sufficient means to attain their goals such as wealth, popularity, status, job opportunities, and relationships, among others. As a result, they will try to reach their goals in whatever way they deem is possible, regardless if the methods are illegal. Theorists concede that while there is a certain level of truth on this claim, it is non-conclusive because committing crimes cannot be limited and restricted to the poor alone. Children coming from wealthy families are also capable of committing crimes and exhibiting criminal behavior (Crossman).
The Juvenile Justice System Then and Now
The juvenile justice system was put in place in the hope of protecting the general public from children and young adults who are capable of committing crimes that adults are capable of doing. However, there was also the belief that children who do commit crimes are entirely different from adults. First, they cannot be blamed fully for their actions and second, they have a better ability for change when put in juvenile centers or rehabilitation. In order to ensure that children are tried in courts that understand the difference between children and adult offenders, states established separate court systems for juveniles (Bulletin: Juvenile Justice: A Century of Change, 1999).
In 1899, the juvenile court process was done informally where the judge and the offender would only converse, without the benefit of legal representation on the part of the youth. Instead of putting the offender in jails together with the adults, the “early juvenile courts created a probation system and used a separate service-delivery system to provide minors with supervision, guidance, and education” (“Youth in the Justice System: An Overview”, n.d.). Initially, the focus of the process was in the child instead of on the offense and rehabilitation of the offending youth and not the punishment for the youth (Bulletin: Juvenile Justice, 1999). While many adults supported the idea, the growing number of juvenile offenders became a concern as adults and parents thought it was not the most effective method of dealing with the problems. Even the rehabilitation methods and treatments came under fire. During that time, youth offenders were kept in juvenile facilities until they reach the age of 21 (Bulletin: Juvenile Justice, 1999).
There has since been significant changes in the process where in the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even child offenders required legal representation and thus, must be accorded similar rights as adult offenders. Based on a court ruling in 1967 in the case of In re Gault, youth offenders were allowed their own attorney representation and the opportunity to meet witnesses against them. Rehabilitation remains to be the primary goal and juvenile systems attempt to ensure the process is not as tough as in adult courts. Instead of prison, juveniles remain under the control and supervision of the juvenile court until the age of 21 in order to inhibit the child from committing more crimes and for the protection of the public. During this time, these offenders are provided educational opportunities and therapy programs (“Youth in the Justice System”). In addition, focus has also been placed on developmental psychology, which considers whether the individual is capable of standing in trial or whether the child was only forced to admit to a crime he or she did not commit (Holmes, 2014).
While there has been a marked decrease in the number of youth offenders since the 1990s, this was not the case prior. Juvenile-related crimes were rising in the 1980s, which forced some states to toughen the policies for juvenile offenders. In some cases, children were tried in courts similar to adult crime offenders and in the end, the children were tried, punished, and dealt with severe sentences such as the death penalty or life sentence without parole (Bulletin: Juvenile Justice, 1999). Still, a large part of society wanted to ensure legal offenders received the help they need in terms of treatment, rehabilitation, or reformation. Thus, greater emphasis was placed on the role of behavioral science, psychology, and mental defects in addressing the problem. In instances when youths had to be tried and locked up in facilities with adult legal offenders, “reform advocates [sought] greater protection for their civil rights” (Holmes, 2014).
Rehabilitation of the youth continues to be the focus for juvenile justice reformists. To do this, they encourage society and communities in supporting programs geared for the betterment of the youth offenders through “outreach programs and alternative sentencing [instead of] prison terms (Holmes, 2014). On the other hand, those who took the opportunity to study while undergoing their sentence faced collateral consequences for their actions. For one, despite changing their ways, their involvement in the legal system, the crime they committed, and the corresponding punishments are all recorded and not necessarily deleted from court records even after they complete their program. Thus, these youths still find it difficult to find employment, serve in the military, or even avail of educational and financial grant (“Youth in the Justice System”).
Pros and Cons of the Juvenile Justice System
Trying juveniles as adults is a controversial subject considering the pros and cons presented by supporters of each group. While youth offenders are classified as those falling under the age of 18 and below, some of them are still being tried in adult courts due to the gravity of the offense.
The Pro supporters believe that regardless of age, offenders must be tried just as how other offenders are tried in courts. Age should not be an issue when it comes to giving punishments. Pro supporters believe that juvenile courts were established to protect the offender, especially the youths instead of the crime committed and the victims involved. For the Pro side, ensuring youth offenders are tried in adult courts will make them understand the gravity of their actions, thus, that experience will inhibit them from committing similar acts again in the future. When youths realize that all criminal offenses are treated equally regardless of age, they will understand that no special considerations will be accorded to them and they will suffer the consequences of their actions (Steinberg, n.d., p. 5). Supporters believe that this could be a learning experience for offenders and other youths who should learn from their peers’ mistakes. Furthermore, supporters see the juvenile courts as nothing more than a warning or scolding compared with adult courts, which gives offenders reason not to change their ways and remain irresponsible individuals. Without making the youth offenders accountable for their actions, the Pro supporters believe that society is breeding and coddle irresponsible individuals.
On the other hand, those on the other side, the Cons, believe that juveniles should not be tried as adults because youths, especially those children as young as 12 and below, do not have the mental capacity of adults who commit crimes despite understanding the wrongfulness of the act. These children are averse to the consequences of their actions, thus, the only way for them to understand the consequences of their actions is to put them in a juvenile center and give them a chance at having a better life (Steinberg, n.d., p. 3). The Cons believe that these offenders only act according to what they have observed in adults, peer pressure, lack of identity, immaturity, and lack of guidance and direction, thus, would need more guidance than reproach if society wants them to become more responsible adults (Steinberg, n.d., p. 3).
Many of these points go against one another, but the issues on the implementation of the juvenile justice system is something that needs to be reviewed regularly in order to determine if it still goes with the times or not. Many states are choosing to lower the age definition for juveniles considering the increasing number of youth offenders. Thus, careful consideration of facts and statistics must be done prior to making a decision about this issue.
“Bulletin: juvenile justice: A century of change.” (1999). 1999 National Report Series, Juvenile Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/9912_2/juv1.html
Crossman, A. (n.d.). Structural strain theory. About.com. Retrieved from http://sociology.about.com/od/Sociological-Theory/a/Structural-Strain-Theory.htm
Holmes, D. (2014). The juvenile justice system in America. Global Research. Retrieved from http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-juvenile-justice-system-in-america/5374359
Steinberg, L. (n.d.). Juveniles in the justice system: New evidence from research on adolescent development. Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars. Retrieved from http://www.familyimpactseminars.org/s_wifis25c01.pdf
“The social learning theory (Bandura).” (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html
“Youth in the justice system: An overview.” (n.d.). Juvenile Law Center. Retrieved from http://www.jlc.org/news-room/media-resources/youth-justice-system-overview
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