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The Need for Change in the Juvenile Justice System
There has been a juvenile crime problem in this country for a very long time. The Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Act and it’s reauthorization in 1984 demonstrates that our leaders recognize this
as well (Flash, 2003). Juvenile crime today includes many different types of offenses. These include
violent offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, assault, and battery as well as non-violent property
offenses such as burglary, larceny, and theft. Property offenses are very high among juveniles as they
have always been, while violent offenses among juveniles are on the rise (Bernard, 1999). The fact that
property offenses are high is very disconcerting because they are the most commonly committed
offenses among juveniles. Equally troubling is the fact that violent juvenile offenses are on the rise.
There are many different punishment policies used today to hold juveniles accountable for their actions.
Punishment policies that are currently used in the United States include waivers to adult court,
incarceration in a training school, probation, and community-based programs. Waivers involve sending
kids who prosecutors think cannot be helped by the juvenile court to the adult system. Incarceration in a
training school is the juvenile equivalent of prison. Probation is the most common disposition used in
the United States today. Probation is a type of punishment in which the juvenile is allowed to stay in the
community as long as he or she meets the conditions of the juvenile court. Community-based programs
allow the juvenile offender to be rehabilitated by being reformed out in the community itself.
We are currently in an age where crime control is what we are focused on. While this may make
sense in terms of keeping the public safe from these juvenile offenders, we don’t take into account the
lives of the juveniles themselves. Many of them have had circumstances that led them to a delinquent
lifestyle. This crime control model has not taken into account the original rehabilitative goals of the
The Need for Change 3
juvenile justice system which are not only to protect the public, but also to rehabilitate juvenile offenders
(Pagnanelli, 2007). Waivers are often used in circumstances where they should not be. Incarceration is
often ordered by a juvenile court judge because they simply give up on the child without considering the
child’s potential to be reformed. This is something that we as a society cannot allow. Juveniles should be
given all the chances they can to be reformed before they become adults. Childhood is the time in which
children learn responsibility. It is at this time that juvenile courts should try and help the juveniles rather
than just lock them up and throw away the key.
We are at the point that we are today because we often times have judges who would rather
waive kids to adult court rather than take on their difficult cases. Some courts would rather place
juveniles in detention centers or residential treatment (Flash, 2003). This unbelievable when we examine
the fact that the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act called for an increase in alternatives to
institutionalizations (Flash, 2003). Kimberly Flash brings up this very important point in her article from
the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Treatment Strategies for Juvenile Delinquency:
Alternative Solutions. Flash states that since the time the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Act was passed, juveniles actually spent more time in detention centers rather than less. It seems like
when you get right down to it, many juvenile justice officials have given up on these kids. This is
something that we cannot stand for in society.
Alternative Punishments and Treatments Are Necessary
Waivers and long term incarceration are clearly not in the best interests of a child. That is why I
recommend that waivers should be removed. I also recommend that we use mediation. Mediation allows
for the victim and the offender to know one another and work out possible solutions and restitutions.
Finally, I recommend community-based wrap-around programs. These programs allow for the
The Need for Change 4
offender’s family to be involved in the rehabilitation process. I also believe that agencies must work
together in order to help cure the problem of juvenile delinquency.
The reason that doing away with waivers will improve the system is that it will decrease the
likelihood that juveniles will recidivate. Transferring violent offenders only increase the likelihood that
they will reoffend and this goes against the idea of protecting the public (Zimring, 2007). We have to
also understand that there is a labeling effect that occurs when a child is transferred to criminal court.
The juvenile will more than likely develop a negative self image about themselves (Zimring, 2007). The
juvenile justice system is much more likely to rehabilitate a juvenile offender than the adult system is.
Alternative treatments will improve the system because they offer an alternative to waiver and
Victim-Offender Reconciliation programs which are also known as mediation is a good way to
improve the system because it allows the offender and victim to sit down and meet each other and then
reach some sort of treatment and restitution agreement (Flash, 2003). Community-Wrap-Around
programs improve the system because they take the people already involved in the youth’s life and allow
those people to work on issues of self-esteem, self-concept, and peer pressure with the youth (Flash
Interagency collaboration benefits the juvenile justice system because it reduces the number of
commitments to juvenile institutions and helps to expand community based treatment programs (Hinkle,
H.G., Cohn, E.L., 2000). Jury trials are necessary in order to improve the juvenile justice system because
they have higher acquittal rates than judicial trials do, therefore kids would be allowed to be
rehabilitated at a higher rate by not having to spend time in an institution.
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The book No Matter How Loud I Shout by Edward Humes provides excellent examples of how
the juvenile justice system has failed. It tells the stories of real life kids who have been through the
system and for the most part, not been afforded a chance to be rehabilitated. I will discuss each
recommendation and how they relate to the kids from No Matter How Loud I Shout. I will be
describing in this paper how these kids would have benefited from my recommendations. Alternative
strategies would benefit these kids because it would have allowed them to have a real chance at
rehabilitation rather than just being thrown in institution and forgotten about.
Waivers to adult court happen to kids who are fit to stay in the juvenile system but because of the
strict criteria of the courts, they end up being waived to adult courts. Geri Vance a juvenile in Edward
Humes’ book is a perfect example of this. Geri was a sixteen year old boy who came from a household
that consisted of a mother and father who scammed people and sold home-grown marijuana. Geri
participated in the botched robbery of a motel clerk. In the process of the robbery, Geri’s partner was
killed, and Geri was being charged with his partner’s murder under the idea that the partner never would
have been killed if the robbery never took place.
Geri was a very talented writer of poetry and had a tremendous amount of potential to be
rehabilitated. Geri was waived to adult court in less than ten minutes. Geri’s lawyer summed up the
current attitude of the juvenile justice system. “You’re charges with murder, you’re over sixteen, you’re
a black kid with a gun, and this Pamona-white, suburban, middle-class Pamona…The judge is going to
take one look at you and you’re gone” (Humes, 1996, p. 73). This statement should appall anyone who
reads it, but sadly in our current system it does not. The things that Geri’s lawyer stated are exactly the
reasons he was waived to adult court. A child like Geri shows so much potential with his writing ability,
The Need for Change 6
ability to reform, and the praise he earned from the juvenile hall staff. This is why I think he is a perfect
example of a child who could be rehabilitated rather than waived to the adult system. Recidivism rates
are much lower for juveniles who remain in juvenile court compared to kids who are waived to adult
court (Steiner, 2006). Juveniles who are transferred to adult court are not only shown to re-offend, but
re-offend quicker! (Steiner, 2006). The first major studies showed that juveniles were not deterred by
the introduction of automatic waivers (Ainsworth, 1996). Officials should look at these recidivism
statistics and want to do away with the waiver process altogether, but yet they do not. Waivers are found
not to have any appreciable deterrent effect. Of the studies done, it is shown that there are no general
deterrent effects shown from the concept of waiver (Steiner, 2006). Juveniles who commit crimes are
not thinking about the potential consequences of their actions.
Rehabilitation needs to be the focus for these juveniles because as stated before, we need to help
these kids while they are kids so that we can prevent them from becoming adult offenders. The major
reason we should discontinue waiver to adult court is the negative impact it has on juveniles. “Transfer
has a significant negative effect on a juvenile’s development and may, therefore, be a direct cause of
increased recidivism” (Pagnanelli, 2007). Children like Geri will only become more criminal if they are
sent to the adult courts. Once they have a stigmatized negative view of themselves, they will become
more likely to recidivate. When it comes down to it, the juvenile justice system is what is in the best
interest of children like Geri Vance, not waiver to the adult system.
Mediation is one of the key treatment programs. It is a process that allows for one or more
persons that are not involved in the dispute which helps feuding parties to work out a settlement (Flash,
2003). Mediation focuses on non-violent property offenders who committed acts such as burglary, theft,
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or vandalism. I believe that George Trevino from Humes’ book No Matter How Loud I Shout would be a
perfect candidate for mediation. George had never committed a violent offense, he was a bystander in a
botched robbery that was planned and organized by an adult (Humes, 1996, p. 115). George’s life was
one that was filled with misery. His mother was in and out of prison which meant that George was
bounced around from foster home to foster home. With the court’s criteria being so rigid, his sad history
does not matter when it come to his fitness hearing. The court ruled that George had to be tried as an
adult because of his age and the fact that he was a danger to society (Humes, 1996, p. 119). Mediation
would have allowed George a chance to sit down with the victims of the home that was broken into and
to realize how the crime affected the family. It would also allow the family to come to an agreement on
some sort of restitution with George. Mediation programs are said to be a “shared search for
understanding” (Rodriguez, 2007).
A juvenile’s family can be a major took for the juvenile justice system in that the family can help
to rehabilitate the juvenile with values and strengths already present in the family. With communitybased wrap-around, the family uses their current value system to help the youth work on self-esteem
issues as well as self-concept and peer pressure (Flash, 2003). The community usually refers to the
family itself. Sometimes it can refer to other people who are positive influences in the juvenile’s life. I
believe that a community-based wrap-around program would be something that would help to
rehabilitate John Sloan in No Matter How Loud I Shout.
John Sloan came from a family that was supportive and churchgoing (Humes, 1996, p.69). The
fact that his family is very supportive and caring makes them a perfect tool that could help rehabilitate
John through community-based wrap around. John faces waiver to adult court in the book. He had no
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priors but was over age sixteen at the time he participated in the armed robbery of a city electrical
inspector. John ended up being declared fit by Judge Roosevelt Dorn who went against what the
guidelines said for him to do. A family centered approach is often found to have been the best method
for addressing juveniles who have committed violent crimes (Gebo, 2007). So in John’s case, we can see
how this method would be a great fit for a juvenile like John.
In order for the juvenile justice system to be salvaged, we must do away with waivers. In
addition to removing waivers, we need to make use of mediation. Finally, we need to use communitywrap around programs as well as boot camps. Removing waivers would improve recidivism rates
considerably because it is shown that juveniles who are waived to adult court are more likely to
recidivate (Steiner, 2006).
Using mediation is proven to work because it allows feuding parties to work out their differences
as well as come to some agreeable conclusion on what the offender’s restitution should be. It also allows
for offenders to meet their victims which lets them to see that the victim is an actual person rather than
just some nameless person.
Community-Based Wrap-Around programs are shown to work because it allows for an
offender’s community to be a tool for their rehabilitation. Within this community is the offender’s family
who uses their current value system to help to encourage the offender and provide them with support and
rehabilitation (Flash, 2003).
The greatest criticism against removing waivers is that this policy would be too lenient on
juveniles. Many people fear that kids will recidivate in greater numbers and not learn from their offenses
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if they are not sent to adult prisons. Clearly as mentioned above, this is incorrect. Offenders who are
waived to adult court are the ones who re-offend, not the other way around.
A major criticism against mediation is that is puts victims in fear of having to see the offender
again. It is actually shown that many victims want to see their offenders again. Victim involvement and
satisfaction has been shown to be a very positive thing for the victims because they get to talk to the
offender and figure out why the offender committed the crime and what it is they can do to work out
some form of restitution (Flash, 2003).
Community-Based Wrap-Around programs are often said to not work because critics believe that
the families of offenders cannot properly rehabilitate them. There is much evidence that shows exactly
the opposite. The involvement of community members such as the family of the offender have a positive
influence on the offender’s life (Flash, 2003). The offender’s natural environment may indeed be the
best tool for rehabilitating the offender. Boot camps are often criticized because they are said to have no
impact on the offender’s life. This is shown to be quite untrue. Boot camps are shown to have a positive
impact on the offender because of their structure environment (Flash, 2003). The offender learns
discipline as well as some type of a skill they can use in the community.
In summary, it is quite necessary to use alternative forms of treatment and punishment in
order to improve the juvenile justice system. Waiver’s have to be abolished because they are shown to
cause recidivism rates to go up for juveniles who have been waived to adult court. Mediation needs to be
used because it allows for there to be some healing for the victim as well as allowing the offender to see
that the victim is a real person. Community-Based Wrap-Around programs need to be used more often
because they allow the family and community of the victim to be involved in the rehabilitation process. I
believe that these recommendations would greatly improve the juvenile justice system.
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