The aim of this paper is to study and analyze the current juvenile system and how effective it has been in preventing crime among the children. It has also dealt with what extra issues require to be addressed in order to develop a better juvenile correction system.
The study has shown that the existing judicial system has been ineffective and sometimes unfair in the way the juveniles are treated. The main aim of the system is to change the offender and protect the community. However, the system focuses more on reprisal towards the offender at the expense of assisting them to change their behavior. This has caused myriads of problems in the contemporary society such as increase in crime rates as a result of high recidivism.
There are diverse measures that have been identified in the paper that can help secure the efficiency of the system in the future. One of these policies involve dealing with juveniles on different capacities depending on the magnitude of the offence. Creation of support programs can help them to learn more on how to cope with life in a more positive way. In addition, children should be provided with therapy and family sessions among others. When these measures are carried out, the offenders are likely to be fully re-integrated with the society and focus on contributing positively to their daily activities while at the same time encouraging them to abandon criminal behaviors.
Juvenile court was created to change and correct the behavior of the youthful offenders below the age of 18 years. The most trusted indication that can be used to check whether they are changing their attitudes or not is their behaviors. If there is no behavior change, then the system can be deemed ineffective. This means that correctional professionals will be required to analyze the correctional system and come up with new techniques that can be used to make the process of behavior change among the young offenders effective.
Most of the times, the mandate to change the correctional systems has been contained within these professionals while the community could also offer better methods of assisting the juvenile offenders. The methods that have consistently been developed by the justice system experts has proven to be ineffective over time and required overhauling. Increase in crime rates is a manifestation of the ineffectiveness of the methods that have been adopted. The juvenile court system requires to involve the community in the future changes of the juvenile justice system. This will act to complement the funding, assistance from the state and the awareness programs that the states create.
This paper looks at the justice system and its effectiveness in assisting in behavior changes among the juvenile offenders. Recommendations on alternative methods that can be used in correctional procedures and facilities for the young people has also been considered. These measures offer flexible mechanisms that can help the offender to be re-integrated back to the society while at the same time considering the long-term safety of the community.
Review of Related Literature
Juvenile justice system has undergone numerous levels of development in line with the increase in the rates of crimes among the juvenile offenders. These reforms have been carried out so that they can be aligned with the objective of bringing justice to the offender. Juvenile courts have changed the system from rehabilitation to punishment. Although there is a lot of history on the evolution of the system, there is less information regarding the rationale behind these changes.
The review of the relevant literature looks at the available research on the juvenile detention centers so that it can be able to illustrate the negative impacts the system has had as a result of approaching juvenile justice with punitive activities. Firstly, the paper highlights the historical review so that it can be able to put the rise of incarceration centers in perspective. Secondly, specific issues within the juvenile incarceration centers are discussed as well as their impact on the rehabilitation of the fresh offenders. Different theories related to criminal activities have been highlighted. The main aim is to use the existing research to demonstrate the need for changes within the juvenile justice system.
The challenge of dealing with juvenile criminals has affected many countries. Before the development of juvenile court, young criminals were tried in adult courts which seemed to give much harsher judgment. The first juvenile court was however set up in 1899. By the year 1945, every state in the United States had at least a juvenile court to try the young criminals.
Throughout the 20th century, the juvenile justice system concentrated more on the rehabilitation process. The greatest challenge was to find mechanisms of fixing the problems affecting the offenders through examining, analyzing and recommendations of the rightful methods of treatment.
The state therefore agreed to take the responsibility of a parent on behalf of a disobedient juvenile. This is a policy referred to us “parens patriae”. The actions undertaken by the judges were quite informal. They had myriads of rehabilitative activities at their discretion that could be used to assist the offender to be a fully functioning member of the society.
This attitude of shielding the youths was very pronounced with reformatory measures being emphasized as opposed to retribution. Instruction schools were also offered as corrective institutions. This kind of a system was supposed to keep the young people away from the influence of the society and encourage self-control through unsympathetic discipline in an accurate reformatory structure. At other times, juveniles were not put into institutions but were put on probation. Programs for trying juvenile offenders in United States had been started in all the states by 1927. There were several reforms that were incorporated between 1940’s and 1950’s. Instead of relying on institutions alone, there was probation camps and forestry.
Several changes were effected over time and the juvenile courts had the jurisdiction of all the cases regarding young people below 18 years. The court separated itself completely from the adult justice courts. As alternative methods to incarceration, correction methods such as probation camps were deemed inappropriate because they could not be used with serious offenders. These changes experienced during the period gave rise to the community-based instructions. This process peaked in early 1970’s. Federal grants could be given to communities by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act from 1974 to encourage the upcoming alternative methods.
In 1980’s and 1990’s, there was a sharp rise in youthful crime rates; something that called for changes within the juvenile justice system. Sanctions were imposed to the offenders through disintegrating them from the mainstream society. The juvenile court was run in a similar way as the adult court.
There are so many changes that have taken place within the juvenile court system over a century. This was the desire created among the correctional professionals, courts as well as policymakers to reduce recidivism rates and increase the safety of the society.
Rationale for Changes
The objectives of the juvenile courts would therefore be achieved through the implementation of myriads of correction, diversion practices and sentencing. Existing practices have been modified with time to achieve the desired goals. Despite the changes that have taken place within the juvenile court system, the crime rates has continued to escalate. It seems as if the system has to make effective changes that would help reduce the crime rates. The society would like to see a society void of extreme crime activities among the youthful people. More services are required to be given to the youths instead of incarceration.
Theories of Delinquency
There are different theories in existence that explain the occurrence of juvenile crimes. These theories are rational-choice theory, labelling theory, anomie strain theory, bonding theory and classical theory. Every theory tries to establish a belief behind the crime. For instance, labelling theory explains that once a child has been found by the society engaging in criminal activities, the society may label him/her a criminal. With time, the child may conform to the label and consequently manifesting this in actions. Children sometimes continue to engage in criminal behaviors because they believe that they must stay as the society views them.
Anomie strain theory, developed by Cohen examines the status of juveniles. According to the theory, the status of juveniles are usually measured against the standards of the middle class level. The lower class children may find it difficult to cope with the standards of the middle class leading to ‘status deprivation’. This consequently leads to ‘status frustration’, a recipe for indulging in criminal and deviant activities.
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Rational choice theories ascertain that individuals have the capability either to engage or leave criminal activities. They can follow the law or violate it. Punishment deters people from committing crimes. Although criminal activities bring a certain amount of satisfaction to the offender, punishment carrying enough pain that outweigh the pleasure will counteract the pleasure feeling.
Social bonding theory asserts that individuals are likely to engage in criminal activities once their ties to the society has weakened. The four common types of bonds include: involvement, belief, commitment and attachment. If these bonds are strong, individuals will refrain from criminal activities. According to the classical thoughts, crimes are committed after offenders weigh the advantages and the disadvantages. Decisions to commit crimes are rational and can be countered through a deterrence-based system.
Empirical Studies on Juvenile Delinquency
Multiple studies carried out show that the incarceration facilities used in detention centers are unsafe and overcrowded. There is also inadequate healthcare services and lack of educational services in incarceration centers.
Many children that are detained in the juvenile justice systems are inappropriately handled. There are several effects on their development, health and mental consequences. Children who commit minor offences and are detained comprise the largest number in the pretrial issue of Department of Youth Services (DYS). For instance, statistical data in 2006 shows that 53% of the detained youths had committed non-violent crimes. 45% of all the youths were detained because of minor offences.
DYS statistics show that in 2007, the majority of the youths that were detained has committed offences such as minor misconducts, domestic assault and battery. 79% of the detained children were 14 years and below and had committed minor offences. The statistics also proved that out of the 5, 438 youths detained in 2006 in DYS, only 20% were committed to DYS. This has a wider implication to the general method used in changing the behavior of the offenders. From these statistics, it can be proven that detention of young offenders can sometimes be inappropriate in addition to being irrational. Different correctional measures need to be designed to complement incarceration.
A study carried out on incarcerated children found out that 1/3 of the imprisoned children were diagnosed with depression problems. The depression worsened immediately after they started the incarceration. This means that there are other better methods that can be used to treat such people so that they turn away from their offending attitudes and become fully-functioning individuals.
Aizer and Doyle carried out a study that aimed to investigate the effectiveness of detention as a corrective measure to young offenders. From the study, it was found out that detaining juveniles affected their educational achievement in addition to increasing the possibility of their incarceration when they become adults. The study also found out that juvenile detention had dropped by 32% from the year 2002. This was attributed to the introduction of alternative corrective mechanisms such as community-based correction systems. This was also significantly found to have reduced the expenses incurred in the incarceration process.
There was an inquiry undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission, with an aim of wanting to investigate the ways in which incarcerated children were affected in terms of their health, development and their well-being. A total of 983 children were accommodated in immigration detention. 128 children were reported to have engaged in self-harm activities from January 2013 to March 2014. This was an evidence that the facilities do not offer a conducive atmosphere for changing the children’s behavior. This also means that alternative methods should be designed in order to assist the juveniles to become socially responsible citizens.
A study carried out in Australia that aimed to investigate mental health outcomes of immigration detainees proved that the negative impacts of detention continued to persist even when the offenders were released. From the study, 85% reported depressive tendencies, 65% suicidal thoughts, 21% showed signs of psychosis and 57% required psychotropic medication. This study offers an eye-opener to the lethal health effects that detention exposes to the detainees more so if they are children with less coping strategies. It is an indication that the juvenile justice system should find alternative means of remedying offenders.
Studies have proved that detention has many negative consequences on the young people who are detained. First, it causes development of trauma. Detained children usually suffer mental problems and can be better served through community-based services such as community counselling. Children with health related challenges become worse when detained instead of improving.
Statement of the problem
Although several changes have been made over a century ago, the corrective measures designed to assist the youths seem ineffective. Crime rates among the youths seem to be increasing with time. This calls for more corrective measures within the juvenile justice system. There is empirical evidence that makes one come up with the conclusion that the current policies present within the juvenile justice system encourage instead of discouraging crimes among young people. The current criminal justice system might be viewed as one that trains criminals instead of making them to be well behaved citizens. There are small offences that are done by the children and instead of designing different correctional facilities, they are put in the same facility with hostile criminals.
Offenders who commit soft crimes are likely to manifest copy-cut behaviors due to the association with the violent criminals. Most of the correctional facilities guide youths into crimes rather than guiding them into crime-free ways. Interaction among offenders is likely to increase the recidivism rate. Juvenile offenders spend a lot of time in isolation instead of spending time either working, socializing, being rehabilitated or going to learning institutions. In these isolated places, violence or crime is treated as an ordinary activity. They do not have efficient correctional facilities.
Juvenile courts not only fail to provide rehabilitation but also takes measures that make it impossible for the process of change to be realized. Youth have manifested high rate of wanting to re-offend when they come out of the isolated facilities. These correctional facilities and policies have failed in preventing crime among the juveniles. This fails the juvenile justice system from realizing its overall objectives.
Proposed Future Directions
The study has found many gaps within the juvenile justice system that impede the realization of its major objectives. This means that viable measures are supposed to be taken in order to address these deficiencies.
The most important factor within the justice system is not finding methods of revenging against criminals but a method of minimizing crime in the society. The criminal justice system should find a way of imposing corrective measures according to the degree of offenses carried out by the offender. Justice systems may not necessarily use the past records of offenders to sentence them but rather sentence them on the basis of the danger they are likely to pose in the future.
Youths need to be provided with therapy. Family sessions which can be performed at their respective homes can help them too. Parents will be required to be involved in the home-based family sessions. This can be effective for first and second time offenders. For third time offenders, the treatment can be given while they are still in the police custody.
The systems of the juvenile courts ought to be re-structured so that they can be able to perform their originally intended therapeutic purpose. In addition, there are certain procedural safeguards that should be considered while punishing the juveniles, in cases where reprisal is deemed necessary.
Different support programs can also be created to offer assistance to the young offenders. Some of these programs can be used to offer help to children under the age of 7 years. The objective behind these programs would be to assist the children to have alternative activities that they would be doing instead of settling for the life of crime. Young people will be guided into performing activities in these programs rather than being misguided into criminal activities. Special programs are also supposed to be provided to the youths that suffer from the challenges related to drug abuse and mental health problems. Children who have been neglected and abused should also be treated separately. From another perspective, policies designed to deal with the offenders must not just be implemented without looking at the deeper implications that they pose to the larger social context. Most of the actions taken by ‘people of goodwill’ usually undermine rationality and do not always give rise to progress. Justice systems should stop over relying on reports given by policemen and concentrate on dealing with justice matters from the societal point of view.
Bazemore asserts that a ‘balanced approach’ to the criminal justice system would be a more appropriate approach. From the authors view, a ‘balanced approach’ would entail coming up with an effective system that ensures that the needs of the victims, community and offenders are met. According to him, all the three parties ought to be engaged in the process as clients or co-participants. The research has identified these recommendations. If properly implemented, the number of offenders in juvenile courts is likely to reduce.
Summary and Conclusions
The juvenile justice system has continued and is expected to see a lot of changes especially in the contemporary society. These changes have been facilitated by the growing trends in crimes among the juveniles. Research and statistics has proven that there is a growing need to incorporate alternative methods of punishment to the juvenile offenders since the existing systems do not achieve the intended goals.
Empirical evidence shows that other alternative methods can assist in the rehabilitation of young criminals. The objective of the juvenile system is to deter the children from a life of crime. The community requires to be involved in the correction of offenders. This can be done once the offender has been released back to the society. Certain activities such as classes and programs can be effective in integrating the offender back to the community and ensure that they follow the right track the moment they are released.
For a system to be productive, the offenders are supposed to leave the premises more productive members of the society. This paper has identified that the effectiveness of the juvenile courts will incorporate law enforcement agencies, community, parents and corrections. All these factors will have a major role in the child’s long term well-being.