The Juvenile Justice Policy - Essay

Topics: Crime, Criminology, Punishment Pages: 8 (2373 words) Published: November 7, 2010
The Juvenile Justice Policy
Jason Austin

The juvenile justice system in dealing with juvenile offenders has cyclically gone from a rehabilitative approach to a punitive approach a number of times since its inception (Jenson & Howard, 1998). Research by Bernard (1992), as cited in Jenson and Howard (1998), examined the history of the juvenile justice system from 1820 and found that when juvenile crime is determined to be high, the justice system responds with severe punishments and few rehabilitative approaches. This approach forces officials to either respond with harsh punishment or doing nothing at all. Eventually, the system is reformed and a greater amount of leniency takes effect. This continues until the final phase, as juvenile crime continues, policies are enacted requiring severe punishment (Jenson & Howard, 1998).

In 1899 at the same time as the creation of the juvenile court, a separate legal process for juveniles was created, “…probation units emphasizing social casework, became integral components of a rehabilitative juvenile justice system…” which continued into the 1960’s. In the 1960’s the legal rights of juveniles were increased “…to include due process considerations such as the right to counsel and protection against self-incrimination” (Jenson & Howard, 1998). Around this same period of time, deinstitutionalization and decriminalization were becoming considerations in exchange for a more rehabilitative model. The rehabilitative approach was “…adopted by all states between 1970 and 1985.” The model again began to change in 1985 with the increase of violence, drug use and distribution, and high gang activity. Currently, the juvenile justice system is stressing punishment and control of juveniles (Jenson & Howard, 1998).

One question that needs to be addressed is that of why should juveniles be treated any different than that of an adult committing a crime and what are the problems with these ideas? There are eight possible justifications. One is that the crime committed by a juvenile is less serious than one committed by an adult. Seriousness can be thought about “…in terms of harm or damage; another is to think about the implications of the act for the future behavior of the offender. It is common to think of adult crimes as more serious than juvenile delinquencies on both counts” Evidence points to the contrary and the seriousness of offenses does not increase with age (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1993).

A second justification is that adults are responsible for their acts, whereas juveniles are not. In other words, juveniles “…do not or cannot anticipate the consequences of their acts…” This can also be referred to as low self-control and if low self-control is grounds to excuse the offender, than it would be logical to excuse many adults of their crime based on low self-control (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1993).

A third justification is that juveniles are more moldable than an adult is, respond better to treatment, and have a better chance of being rehabilitated. Evidence has been found to the contrary and furthermore, “…adults have a declining crime rate regardless of treatment” (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1993).

Fourth justification is there is a separate class of offenses, called status offenses, which are only offenses because of the age of the offender. One could argue in the reverse, that alcohol is frequently related to criminal acts, but is legal for adults to consume. Another analogy to the juvenile status offense of incorrigibility is the crime of resisting arrest by an adult (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1993).

A fifth justification is that the juvenile justice system is that allows for the sealing of records so as not stigmatizing the offender and jeopardizing their future. This creates a host of problematic issues. An offender could continue engaging in crime and a judge would not know of past offenses, thereby possibly returning the offender to the streets. Also once...
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