A Look At The Progression

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A Look at the Progression

Of America's

Juvenile Justice System

America's juvenile justice system has endured much criticism lately. With juvenile crime on the rise, the topic has become even hotter. To fully understand the juvenile system, one must first understand the history of it. Also, another important area is the process of the juvenile system and what steps a youthful offender takes as he/she moves through the system. After the juvenile is proven to be in need of rehabilitation and/or punishment, there are many sentencing options for the judge to chose from. Among concerns of the juvenile system are the causes. One theme remained consistent in every source I read "“ the breakdown of society and family. Finally, one of the most disturbing aspects of the juvenile system is the race issue. I have backed up my personal experience with some shocking statistics. The juvenile justice system needs to continue evolving with the times in order for it to remain effective.

A Look at the Progression
Of America's

Juvenile Justice System

The history of juvenile justice can be traced back to England. England developed a body of law, which is known as common law. Under common law people were divided into three categories based solely on age. The first group was infants. The law stated that infants could not be charged with a crime because they were incapable of having evil intent necessary to commit a crime. The state of infancy existed from birth to seven years of age. The second group included those between the ages of seven and fourteen. Much like those of the first group, those in the second group were, as one historian (e.g., Reikes, 1980) commented, "presumed to be incapable of having the evil intent legally necessary to commit a crime." This theory could be refuted though. If the prosecution could prove that persons in this group were capable of having evil intent "“ or what is known as mala in se "“ then they could be charges with crimes and tried as adults. The final group contained all those people over fourteen years of age. All persons in this group could be tried in the criminal courts as adults. In other words, according to the common law, fourteen was the age of adulthood when dealing with crimes.
The concept of "parens patriae" was created for the juvenile justice system. This Latin phrase refereed to the role of the king as the father of his country. One author (e.g., Siegel & Senna, 1988) defined "parens patriae" as "the power of the state to act in the behalf of the child and provide care and protection equivalent to that of a parent. Siegel continues by stating that "the concept apparently was first used by English kings to justify their intervention in the lives of the children of their vassals "“ children whose position and property were of direct concern to the monarch." The problem occurred when the king began to use "parens patriae more and more to justify his intervention in the lives of families and children by its interest in their general welfare. The concept of "parens patriae" then expanded over to the courts to refer primarily to the responsibility the courts and the state have to act in the best interest of the child. Siegel expanded on this idea and stated that the idea that the court should "act to protect the young, the incompetent, the neglected, and the delinquent subsequently became a major influence on the development of the American juvenile justice system."
Throughout the seventeenth century and a large part of the eighteenth century, youthful offenders were sentenced to adult prison facilities. While in adult facilities, they were not always separated from the adult offenders. Robert Young established the first separate institution in England in 1788. This differed greatly from the former places juvenile offenders were often sent. Another text (e.g., Cox & Conrad, 1978) stated that the goals of this institution were "to educate and instruct some useful trade or occupation the children of convicts or such other infant poor as are engaged in a vagrant and criminal course of life."
One interesting description I ran across while researching juvenile justice history was that of an ideal child. This author (e.g., Empey, 1979) described the principles.
1.        Never permit children to be alone, since they are not fit to govern themselves.
2.        Discipline, do not pamper children. They must learn submission and self control.
3.        Teach modesty. Children should not undress in the presence of others; should not lie in an immodest position, especially girls; should not sleep together if of the opposite sex; should not hear songs, read books, or observe performances that express dissolute passions.
4.        Train children to work. Teach them diligence in some lawful trade.
5.        Above all, teach them respect for, and obedience to, authority.
After reading many current statistics and reviewing many theories, I am beginning to wonder if this description should be in place somehow today!
In the early 1800's, major developments occurred to improve the juvenile justice system. In some cases dependent or neglected children were to be appointed legal guardians whose job it was to basically walk them through the court process and make sure they received an education. One historian (e.g., Mennel, 1972) states that "although many juveniles were being sentenced to prison life, few appeared to benefit from the experience. Others simply appealed to the sympathy of the jurors and escaped the consequences of their actions entirely." In spite of the new goals of institutionalization, there was no significant decline in the incidence of delinquency.
Finally, after much pressure from child advocates, the development of the first juvenile court transpired in 1899, in Cook County Illinois. They created a separate court, which was established to handle criminal law violations committed by those under sixteen years of age. The original goals of the juvenile court were to investigate, diagnose, and prescribe treatment for offenders, not to merely judge guilt and affix blame. One textbook (e.g., Roberson, 1996) states that the "court was further given the responsibility of supervising care of the neglected, dependent, and wayward youth." The idea of a separate court caught on quickly and soon almost every state had established the same.
Also developed at the turn of the century were separate juvenile correctional facilities. Another textbook (e.g., Weisheit & Culbertson, 1985) noted that "it became a strictly forbidden practice to house juvenile offenders in local jails and prisons." In line with the court's philosophy of protecting youth, juvenile offenders' placement was often in reformatories or training schools that were designed to keep them away from the bad influences of society plus instill self-control through discipline and structure.
The development of these changes to the system did not completely fix the system overnight. The general theory at that time was that since these were not criminal courts, the youth did not have the same rights as if they were being tried as an adult in criminal court. These courts were usually under a branch of family court. It took many years and several notable court cases to give juveniles the rights they enjoy now.
One textbook (e.g., Champion, 1998) illustrated an important timeline for juvenile justice. He included the following court cases. The first important case was Kent Vs United States. This case "establishes juvenile's right to a hearing before transfer to criminal court, right to assistance of counsel during police interrogations, right to reports and records relating to transfer decision, and right to reasons given by judge for transfer." The next case occurred in 1967 with In re Gault. This case "establishes juvenile's rights to an attorney, right to notice of charges, right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and right against self incrimination. Finally, in 1970, the juvenile's right to criminal court standard of beyond a reasonable doubt was established whenever the loss of freedom was a possible punishment. This came from the case In re Winship.
The 1980s marked another transitional period for the juvenile justice system. The public began to demand stiffer penalties for juveniles. Although rehabilitation of juvenile offenders was still a goal, the priority became punishment and public safety. This was primarily due to the increase in juvenile arrests for violent crime. As one research (e.g., Zaslaw & Balance, 1996) noted, "juvenile crime in the United States increased 22 percent between 1984 and 1993. Significant jumps in homicide (167.9 percent), aggravated assault (98.1percent) and violent crime (67.6 percent) seems to confirm what many already believe: America's children are out of control."
The juvenile justice system will have to continue to evolve as we try to deal with the epidemic of juvenile crime. One text (e.g., Roberson et al., 1996) best sums up the role of our present juvenile justice system. It stated that the present role of the system is
1.        To provide a social welfare program designed to assist and act as the wise parent.
2.        Protect the constitutional rights of children.
3.        Act as a treatment agency to rehabilitate delinquents, and
4.        To protect society from violent youths.

Case Process
The best caseflow diagram was found in an excerpt from Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report and, unless other wise noted, is quoted here. Youthful law violators generally enter the juvenile justice process through law enforcement. As with the adult system, "law enforcement diverts many juvenile offenders out of the justice system. At arrest, a decision is made to send the matter further into the system or to diver the case out of the system, often into alternative programs." This usually occurs after the police have talked with the juvenile's parents and also have reviewed the juvenile's prior history with the juvenile justice system. "Thirty percent of all juveniles arrested in 1992 were handled within the police department and then released. Two-thirds of arrested juveniles were referred to juvenile court."" As stated before, federal regulations prohibit holding juveniles in adult jails and lockups except under certain conditions.
The article from Juvenile Offenders' noted that "most juvenile court cases are referred by law enforcement. Law enforcement referrals accounted for 85% of all delinquency cases referred to juvenile court in 1992. The remaining referrals were made by others such as parents, victims, schools, and probation officers."
The juvenile probation office and/or the prosecutor's are generally held responsible for whether or not the case continues in court. This is the point where they decide to both dismiss the case and handle the matter informally, or continue on with court proceeding. An intake officer reviews the facts of the case in order to make this decision. If there is enough evidence to prove the allegations, the case will continue, if the evidence is not sufficient, the case is dismissed. "About half of all cases referred to juvenile court intake are handled formally." In some cases where the case is decided to be handles informally, the juvenile must voluntarily agree to adhere to specific conditions. The conditions are outlined in a written agreement called a consent decree. Parents have some say as to what conditions their child needs to agree to. The consent decree can include many restrictions and actions needed to be taken. For example, a curfew is almost always listed, as well as school attendance. In some cases I have seen, the consent decree can even be as specific as to the friends of the juvenile. Drug counseling and victim restitution may also be included. The juvenile's compliance with this agreement is then monitored by a probation officer. This is a type of informal probation. A time frame is placed on this decree. If the juvenile successfully complies with this informal probation, the case is dismissed. If the juvenile does not meet the conditions however, the decision may be made to formally prosecute the case. During the processing of the case, it may be deemed necessary to place the juvenile in custody. The juvenile system refers to this as detention. The court may hold the juvenile in a secure detention facility is it believes that it is in the best interest of the community or the child. All states have statues, which determines a time frame that a detention hearing must be held. "“ usually 24 hours. At the detention hearing, the judge reviews the case and then determines if a continued stay at detention is necessary. The youth is either released or detention is continued after this hearing. In one interesting study (e.g., Walter & Ostrander, 1982) "the median number of minutes for the hearing was 15 minutes." Detention facilities are ideally set up so that only those children accused of a crime are housed, but in reality, detention centers hold others. Over crowding of juvenile placement facilities may result in the offender being held over in detention until a bed opens in the placement center. Once the case continues, two types of petitions may be filed: delinquency or waiver. "A delinquency petition states the allegations and request the juvenile court to adjudicate (or judge) the youth a delinquent, making the juvenile a ward of the court. This language is different from that of the adult system where the offender is said to be convicted. A waiver is when the prosecutor believes that a case would be more appropriately handled in a criminal court. This usually happens when the juvenile is a repeat offender or the offense is considered so serious that the juvenile needs to go to an adult court.
Sentencing Alternatives
The judge has several options as to how to sentence a juvenile offender. One of the most common is probation. Probation is the primary form of community treatment in the juvenile justice system. The youth is placed and maintained in the community under the supervision of an authorized officer of the court "“ a probation officer. Only a judge can place a juvenile under an order of probation. One author (e.g., Siegel et al. , 1988) writes, "juvenile probation is based on the idea that the juvenile offender is not generally dangerous to the community and has a better chance of being rehabilitated within the community. . . Probation provides the child with the opportunity to be closely supervised by trained personnel who can help him or her reestablish forms of acceptable behavior in a community setting."
Group homes are another alternative to prison. Although I could not find much information on group homes, I know from personal experience that they are used in this area as the top placement for female offenders. Siegel defines group homes as "nonsecure, structured residences that provide counseling, education, job training, and family living. They are staffed by a small number of qualified persons and generally hold a maximum of 12 to 15 youngsters." A group home setting allows the youth to reside in a home, attend public school, and actually be active in the community. I realized that in many instances, this was the juvenile's first opportunity to be a stable home environment.
"Scared Straight" and other aversion programs are another alternative to actual prison time, although are not used much anymore. These programs are based on deterrence and allow the juveniles to see what was in store for them if they continued down the criminal path. One study (e.g., Petrosino & Turner & Fickenauer, 2000) found that it "used to be that the inmates and youth participated in a realistic and confrontational rap sessions depicting prison life "“ including stories of rape and murder." Presently, when these programs are used, most likely the juvenile is given a tour through the facility and has little if any contact with the inmates.
The Koch Crime Institute provided me with much of the following information. Boot camps are very popular sentencing options for non-violent offenders. In July of 1990, the Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention announced that it would begin testing boot camps for juveniles. The 90 "“ 120 day programs are aimed at non-violent offenders at risk of continuing criminal behavior. The programs use military-like discipline and structure in a "comprehensive residential setting that is followed by supervised aftercare in the community for up to 9 months." Although first aimed toward male offenders between the ages of 13 "“18, boot camps have now opened their doors to female offenders. The goal of the facilities is to "build self-discipline, responsibility, self-esteem, and teamwork by employing military structure, discipline and physical fitness training." Wilderness camps are also a part of this alternative and challenge the offender to discover inner strengths and abilities through programs that include scaling towers, mountain climbing and camping. One program that was observed (e.g., Callahan, 1985) had this goal: " to learn, through the group process, socially acceptable ways of handling peer pressure."
The next alternative to incarceration is electronic monitoring. Under electronic monitoring, the juvenile must wear a transmitter on his/her ankle, which sends an encoded signal to a receiving/processing unit installed in the offender's home. This unit is connected by telephone to the host computer in a monitoring center. A signal is sent to the receiving unit to indicate when the offender is home. If a signal is not received, the computer shows that a violation has occurred because the offender was not home. In some cases, the probation officer will then call the offender home to insure the computer's accuracy. In my opinion this is a great alternative, especially since it cuts down on the expenses of incarceration and also frees up bed space. There are drawbacks to this program though. Many juveniles who would benefit from it are ineligible and therefore disqualified because of the cost to the parent or guardian. The parent is responsible for "renting" the monitoring unit and also maintaining a working phone line. This makes the program less available for impoverished offenders.
Finally, a new approach to alternative sentencing is to incorporate retribution into the programs. Any time a crime occurs, a debt occurs and justice requires that the victims are in some way restored their losses. This allows for the juvenile offender to also be held accountable. One article (e.g., Corbett, 1999) states that restitution programs "repay and restore victims and harmed communities and counter the prevalent notion that juvenile offenders are immune from any real penalties." To ensure this program hits home to offenders, it is my theory that not only monitary retribution be required but also some form of community service. Some programs are requiring youth to meet with the victims and take responsibility for the damages they have caused. In some criminologists' opinion (e.g., Bazemore, & Terry, 1997) "like all youths, delinquent adolescents need to gain a sense of belonging or connectedness and a sense of usefulness."
Editorial on Causes
There are many expert opinions on the causes of juvenile delinquency. These include economic background, substance abuse, delinquent peer groups, repeated exposure to violence, and the increased availability of firearms and media violence. Although I believe that these are all contributing factors to juvenile crime, one theme remained constant in the research I used "“ juvenile crime can be directly attributed to the breakdown of society and family structure. We, as a society, do not place enough emphasis on the value of the family and parental roles. For example, before you can legally operate a motor vehicle, you must first pass a test and be issued a license. A permit is needed for gun ownership, and even pet owners in most states, need to have a license for their animal. There is absolutely no training or license necessary to become a parent. Parenting is a skill and like all skills, requires practice, commitment and training. Unfortunately mistakes made in parenting can have drastic effects on children. One study (e.g., Piquero, 2000) conducted found involved woman that had pre and postnatal visits by nurses. These nurses frequently checked up on the new mothers. After 15 years, he looked at the children of these mothers and found that they had fewer incidences of running away, drinking and smoking. Most importantly, he found that "these individuals had fewer arrests and fewer convictions." Piquero concluded that a concentrated focus on very early prevention goes a long way. He stated that competent care of the children is needed and that personal maternal development is needed. All this shows the relevance of family structure. Another study (e.g., Elliott, 1994) found that almost all criminal careers begin in childhood. "Serious offending begins essentially between the ages of 12 and 20. The risk of initiation is close to 0 after age 20." A more stable home provides children with the mental and social arsenal needed to survive in present-day society. Society has made some drastic changes over the last 30 years. Some of these changes are beneficial such as better medical techniques and some advancement for minorities and woman, but not all changes have been positive. For example, due to most homes having a two-parent income, children are spending more time with their peer groups then ever before. Programs severely needed by working mothers were cut or removed entirely back in the Reagan Era. These cuts in programming have had major effects on youth. Drugs and weapons have become readily accessible and are constantly seen as ways to deal with ones problems. Also contributing to this problem is that children are constantly being bombarded with images of explicit sex and violence. The media's impact has become increasingly larger through the introduction of computers, video games and MTV.
Race Issue
I could not close this paper without adding the topic of race. Although not completely surprised, I was discouraged to discover such disparity among the races of juvenile offenders. The facts are completely unavoidable in that in every stage of the juvenile justice system, minority children are treated more harshly. One researcher (e.g., Mendel, 2000) published several statistics showing that although African-American youth constitute only 15 percent of America's population between the ages of 10 "“ 17, they account for:
26% of juvenile arrests nationwide;
30% of delinquent referrals to the juvenile courts;
33% of delinquency cases formally petitioned (i.e. charged in juvenile court);
40% of juveniles committed to out-of-home placements by juvenile courts;
45% of all youth held in juvenile detention;
46% of juveniles waived on to criminal court; and
60% of juveniles serving time in adult prisons.
Another source (e.g., Carr, 1996) had similar figures. She also found that when total population figures are compared, "African-Americans are being incarcerated at a rate eight times that of whites." One of the reasons she gave was that the federal government has ordered stiffer penalties for drug crimes, especially those drugs used in minority communities. One state mandated two years for possessing three grams of crack cocaine but just one year for possessing three times as much powder cocaine. Until the government admits to the racial disparity in the criminal justice system, there will be no solution to this problem.
In conclusion, juvenile crime has hit society in a wave of epidemic proportions. To understand the present problems with the juvenile justice system, one needs to review history, examine the caseflow and sentencing options, discover possible causes, and deal with the race issue. I was amazed to discover how little I actually knew about the juvenile system even though my degree is in criminal justice. Pondering the reason of that, I came up with the following comparison. Much like our class textbooks where the section relating to juvenile justice is always placed in the back and may never be gotten to or even skipped over by professors, the juvenile system has always been placed on the backburner. The present juvenile-crime crisis has finally demanded the attention it deserved years ago.
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Carr, R. (1996). Crime. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 54 (40), 2810 "“ 2811.
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Corbett, R. (1999). Up to speed. Federal Probation, LXIII, (2), 78 "“ 86.
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Elliott, D.S. (1994). Serious and violent offenders: onset, developmental course, and termination. Criminology, 32, (1).
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Mendel, R. A. (2000). Less hype, more help: reducing juvenile crime, what works "“ and what doesn't. Unpublished manuscript.
Mennel, R. M. (1972). Origins of the juvenile court: changing perspective on the legal rights of juvenile delinquents. Crime and Delinquency, 70.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (1998). Caseflow diagram. Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report, NCJ153569. 76 "“ 79.
Petrosino, A., & Turner, C., & Fickenauer, J.O. (2000). Well-meaning programs can have harmful effects! Crime and Delinquency, 46, (3). 354 "“ 379.
Piquero, A. (2000). Frequency, specialization, and violence in offending careers. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 37, (4). 392 "“ 418.
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Roberson, C. (1996). Introduction to criminal justice (2nd ed.) Incline Village, NV: Copperhouse Publishing Company.
Siegel, L. J., & Senna, J. J. ( 1988). Juvenile delinquency "“ theory, practice, and law. (3rd ed.) St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.

Walter, J. D., Ostrander, S. A., (1982). An observational study of juvenile court. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 33, (3). 53 "“ 69.
Weinheit, R. A., & Culbertson, R. G. (1985). Juvenile delinquency: a justice perspective. Prospect Height, IL: Waveland Press Inc.
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