Statement of the Problem
Lately, there have been issues regarding the abolishment of the juvenile support or the separate judiciary for the minors. Through the years, many changes have occurred in the juvenile support system, making it more and more alike with the adult judiciary. Among the most significant changes the Supreme Court of the United States include the allowable pretrial detention of minors in 1984, minimum age for death penalty was set at 16 in 1996, and in 2005, minimum death penalty age was set at 18 (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006).
However, the aim of the juvenile justice system is to protect the special needs of the youth. The system basically follows the parens patriae philosophy which literally means “state is the father”. This gives right to the state to intervene in the lives of its young citizens. Thus, the state has the responsibility to protect its “children” or the youth who are engaged in juvenile delinquency.
Juvenile delinquency is legally defined as “an act committed by a minor (under 17 or 18 years old) who violates the penal code of the government with authority over the area in which the act occurred.” Juvenile delinquents, in the American society are believed to be victims of improper care, custody and treatment at home and in their immediate community. They are ideally given treatment that would correct and prevent them from committing their mistakes again (Siegel and Senna, 1991).
The author decided to have this topic in this term paper because this has been one of the prevailing issues in the country. Moreover, as a youth, the author should also take part in the analysis of the issue because this has an effect to his immediate community, in school, in neighborhood, and to his peers.
This is an important issue that should be given a stand because the government do not really exert the necessary procedures to know if the people of America agrees or disagrees to the abolishment of the juvenile justice system. In a survey conducted by the group of Mears in Florida, more than 80 percent do not agree to the abolishment of juvenile justice system. Nevertheless, they agree to modify the system. Among the modifications suggested is the lowering of the maximum age of the minors to be held by the juvenile system (Mears, et al., 2007).
Among the other modifications that the people and the government consider is the transfer of the more serious offenses like rape and murder should be transferred in the adult support system. The judge himself may also decide for the transfer if he or she can see that the juvenile court cannot handle the case (Siegel and Sennel, 1991).
Looking at this issue, the author disagrees to the abolishment of the juvenile justice support system. Rather, it would support the other suggested modification on the system aside from the abolishment of the system itself.
History of the Juvenile Support System and Its Current issues
Before the 19th century, children under the age of seven years old stood in adult trial courts. They could be sentenced to prison or even death penalty if found guilty (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006). Moreover, Siegel and Senna (1991) added that the children early in the US history were “treated with extreme cruelty at home, at school and by the law.”
In the 19th century, the European educational education movements that started as early as 16th century finally reached the US. These reform movements made the perception of children as individuals with less moral development and cognitive capacities. In 1825, the Society for the Prevention Juvenile Delinquency advocated the actual separation of the juvenile and adult courts. Later on, after the rise of the issues concerning juvenile abuses in adult prisons, many states decided to consider having a separate juvenile justice support system (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006).
As early as 1910, 32 states already adhered to having separate juvenile justice systems. The aim of the systems was not primarily to punish the delinquent minor but to make them “productive” to series of treatments that may vary depending on the needs of the troubled child. All crime offenders ages 18 and below were subjected to the system and only if the juvenile court approved a waiver should the child be sentenced in an adult court system (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006).
Among the cases sold in juvenile courts, 90 per cent of them avoid being transferred in an adult court room and 70 per cent of these cases were given probation rather than correctional sentence (Champion and Mays, 1991). Nowadays, this scenario of leniency in trial courts is pointed out as the cause of the seemingly increasing trend of juvenile delinquency and adult crimes.
The Statistics and Analysis of Juvenile Delinquencies
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s United Crime Reports, in 2006, 12.6 per cent of the violent crimes and 19.1 per cent of property crimes involved minors. Moreover, it is also alarming that minors committed 40.2 per cent of all arson offenses in the same year. These trends however are not new.
In 1960’s up to 1975, juvenile crimes went up by 300 per cent which is more than twice the increase among the adult crimes. In 1975, 43 per cent of the FBI’s seven major index offences involved the minors (Champion and Mays, 1991).
Aside from the leniency of the juvenile court systems, other factors are considered too. Although the crime in the United States slowly goes down, the crime rates involving the youth is becoming higher. Some experts say that this is because the population of the states is becoming young. The population of the youth is gradually increasing. This changes are believed to account for the 40 per cent of the crime rate increases among juvenile crimes ( Siegel and Senna, 1991).
The lowering of crime rates may be attributed to the “tough” justice system around the state. However, some would attest that this is not true in juvenile support systems. Another factor that was raised is the increasing access of the youth in firearms (Champion and Mays, 1991). Children can now easily have their own weapons, lethal or not. Thus, more minors are involved in violent crimes.
This may also be related to the trends of “gangs” among the streets of the state. In 2002, there are 731, 500 gang members in almost 2,900 law enforcement agencies. Almost half of these agencies reported that these youth gangs have been a constant problem in their respective community. Thus, the membership of the child in such youth groups is related to the occurrence of juvenile related crimes (Egley et al., 2001).
Another factors seen are the involvement of the youth to the use of prohibited drugs. Through the years, there is a continuous increase in the number of youth that use drugs. No less than 25 per cent which involved drug use accounted the total arrests in juvenile courts from 1994 to 2001(Snyder and Sickmund, 2006).
For the author, other factor that is not mentioned among the reports researched is the influence of media which may be one of the most prevailing force that portrays violence among the youth. As early as the children get exposed to the television and the Internet, they are already exposed to the vast forms of violence. Not to mention, the rise of online violent games may also have some psychological effect to the children.
To abolish or not?
Not looking at the other factors that are mentioned, the legislators have been putting the blame to the “lenient” juvenile justice system. Some others are suggesting massive changes in the system and other may also opt to completely abolish the system itself.
The main argument of the people who may want to abolish it is that the youth is not threatened of the lenient juvenile justice system. Thus, they should be put in the adult system. This would mean that they would be trialed just like in adult offenders and may also be sentenced like and with them.
Nonetheless, this may also post disadvantages among the adult justice systems. Such cases which involves the youth may take longer periods of court trials because after all, the offender is still a minor. The due process of law would be longer and longer because the age of the offender is what complicates it. Likewise, this would mean that more would be placed in prison: the adults and the youth. More maintenance, facilities, infrastructures, and sheriffs would be needed (Egley et al., 2001).
Another disadvantage that may also be viewed in a wider perspective is that the state may suffer to the complete lost of the human resources from the youth. It was mentioned that the population of the United States have becoming young. If these young petty offenders may be put to prison together with the hard core adult offenders of the law, they would be more likely to be influenced (Egley et al., 2001). Some may just likely to be forming their personal identity, and the identity that they will label themselves are more likely a man or a woman behind the bars.
Enumerating the disadvantages of abolishing the juvenile support system is not enough. There should also be recommendations on how to improve the system. Among the recommended suggestions is to reduce the availability of guns among all the youth hence reducing the felt need of the youth to be armed. More strict rules should be implemented regarding the issuing of firearms. Likewise, the authorities should also be vigilant in checking illegal issuing of firearms (Egley et al., 2001).
Multiple interventions may also be done such as public education, anti-violence campaigns, improved socialization of the media and better portrayal of the youth in various media (Egley et al., 2001). The juvenile justice support system should never be abolished. The increase in crime trends among the youth may also be interpreted as a growing need to protect the youth from the factors that may influence them to break the law.
Lastly, it may not be abolished because after all, some argues that the juvenile justice support system is not really a separate justice system from that of the justice system as a whole. It is not “apart” of it but “a part” of the larger umbrella of the judiciary (Egley et al., 2001).
- Champion, D. and G. Mays. 1991. Transferring Juveniles to Criminal Courts: Trends and Implications for Criminal Justice. CT: Praeger Publishers.
- Egley, A., Howell, J. and Aline, K. 2001. National Youth Gang Survey:1999-2001. United States of America: US Department of Justice.
- Mears, D., Hay, C., Gertz, M., and C. Mancini. 2007. Public Opinion and the Foundation of the Juvenile Court. Criminology. Vol 45 Issue:1. US: Blackwell publishing. Available at: http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=239625.
- Siegel, L. and Senna, J. 1991. Juvenile Delinquency. NY: West Publishing Company.
- Snyder, Howard N., and Sickmund, Melissa. 2006. Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006