CJS200 Week Nine Assignment Juvenile Justice Submitted by Travis Hance

The juvenile court is an evolution of societies concepts of fair and just treatment. Our early history shows that children received little if any special treatment, tried by the same courts that processed adults. However, a realization that children might not possess the mental faculties and maturity to accurately judge right from wrong has led to the creation of the juvenile court system. This court system provides a different venue from the adult court system, with a completely different emphasis. In 1938 the Juvenile Court Act1 helped establish a procedure for establishing juvenile courts within each state. In addition, the evolution of the juvenile justice system has also established other forms of dealing with offenders including supervisory programs, reform houses, and other alternative methods for dealing with juvenile offenders. First established in Chicago1 reform houses provided alternatives to confinement, and were based on the concept and ideal that children are a valuable part of society, and deserve to be protected. Such alternative methods of punishment worked in a new way. Juvenile courts were given the mandate to protect the child’s interests and potential development by treating each case as individual, and avoiding the stigma of criminality.

There are therefore some differences between adult courts and juvenile courts. For example, juvenile courts accept petitions of delinquency rather than complaints of criminal action. Within an adult court, someone must file an affidavit of complaint, which begins the process for the criminal trial. A petition of delinquency is fundamentally different and less of a criminal action. While adult courts assign sentences, the juvenile court arrives at a disposition. Hearings are conducted instead of trials, and juveniles may be found delinquent, but are not criminal. This allows for a more informal setting in which the judge can act more as a parental figure and mentor, instead of acting as a judge in the traditional sense. All of these methods and terminology are designed to protect the juvenile’s rights and assumed innocence.

As the concept gained popularity, government programs in the 1960s and 1970s began to provide federal funding in order to modernize local courts and initiate positive programs, and societies focus began to shift to the prevention of juvenile crime. Congress passed the first of these programs in 1968. Named the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, it was the first serious step by the government to begin reforms and address juvenile crime. As the needs for juvenile justice continued to grow, Congress readdressed the situation in 1974 with the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. This new approach mandated separate facilities for juveniles, and supervisory programs for status offenders. Revisited in 1980, the program was amended to deny funding to states that were not in compliance. In addition to Federal

mandates, state and municipal programs began to appear that were targeted at higher juvenile crime areas, establishing youth centers to promote positive activities. Police departments began to work proactively by hosting basketball games within their neighborhoods and utilizing school programs to provide positive outlets for youths. All of these action reflected societies demand for a better way to not only prevent juvenile crime, but also to treat it in the most optimistic way possible. Ultimately, the goal of the juvenile justice system is to address juvenile crime while providing a path to development of positive goals and personality traits.

Delinquency therefore can be defined as actions and activities performed by a minor which are outlined as offenses within the penal code, but which the system chooses to examine based on the totality of the circumstances. While parents and family often provide the positive influences needed in order to curb inappropriate behavior, there are times in which the court must step in and take action. The concept of delinquency is applied in order to avoid the stigma of criminality being applied to the juvenile. The officer of the court handling the case strives to hear the petition, with the expressed aim of finding a way to correct the errant behavior. In addition, many states penal codes allow for certain delinquent actions to be removed from a juveniles record upon reaching a certain age and exhibiting a record of reformed behavior, even going as far as to seal juvenile records so that they do not negatively impact later adult life.

Status offenses are an interesting development that has evolved within our penal code. A simple way to define status offenses in my opinion is to say that simply being underage makes the action an offense. Examples of status offenses include purchase of age-restricted materials such as tobaccos and alcohol. While purchase of these materials is not illegal for adults, it becomes a status offense for the underage. This concept works in concert with the aims of the juvenile court system by continuing to remove the stigma of criminality from the procedure. Oftentimes upon conclusion of the process, such status offenders are referred to as Persons in Need of Supervision. Such supervision can come from parents, state facilities, or other assigned means. The goal of such supervision is to provide positive reinforcement while reducing the temptation to return to negative behaviors.

There are a number of variables that must be taken into account when considering juvenile crime rates. At the most basic level, one must consider that the judge has considerably more leeway in a juvenile case than in an adult case, and that in approximately two-thirds of cases the judge chooses probation instead of confinement1. Again this is because of the considerable effort to prevent habitual criminal actions. This can begin to skew the statistics from the very beginning, as many offenders are simply released or diverted from further action. Additionally one must consider that the size of the state can result in a

larger statistical base. Smaller states like Vermont show small statistics, while California naturally represents one of the largest. The effort to rehabilitate juveniles through probationary or supervisory programs introduces another variable to statistics. Such diversionary programs result in a relatively small and potent population that is assigned to confinement. These by nature of their actions and sentence represent the more serious offenders.

When we look at the problems that face both law enforcement, and the criminal justice system today, one of the most disturbing to me is juvenile crime. Childhood and adolescence are supposed to be a time of learning and exploration, when our minds our most susceptible to new ideas. It is during these formative years that our personality truly begins to develop and solidify. The most important deterrent to juvenile crime starts in the home. Parents must instill good morals and values within their children from an early age. Violent and socially damaging media should be restricted, as they can impact the fragile young minds development. While I applaud the vast strides that our society has made within the juvenile justice system, I look forward to the next steps in evolution that will bring about more effective methods.