Term Paper: Effectiveness of the Juvenile Justice System

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¶ … Juvenile Justice System

History of Juvenile Justice in the United States

The United States experienced the Progressive Era from approximately 1900 to 1918 (Thomas, 1992). During that time period, there were a number of social reforms taking place, once of which was the advent of the juvenile justice system. Prior to this era of change and reform, children over the age of seven who committed infractions were treated like adults and jailed with adults. As more and more research was done and chances transpiring in society and in politics, the move to rehabilitation instead of imprisonment became the general focus of the system for juveniles. Societal, there was a sense of responsibility to the juvenile delinquent population to rehabilitate and possible deter them from further criminal activity and ending up a part of the adult justice system. The state took on increased responsibility as guardian for juvenile delinquents, and began to treat offenders in a youth focused system (Allen, 1981).

By the mid-1960's, the juvenile courts that had been developed were primarily responsible for all children under the age of 18 that committed legal infractions. In order for a youth to transition to the adult system, a waiver was required. Moreover, proceedings for juveniles were managed in civil proceedings vs. criminal trial proceedings like that in the adult justice system. In 1967, the Supreme Court decided that it was necessary for juvenile courts to adhere to the rules of due process, reminiscent of the adult system. The landmark case of Gerald Francis Gault set the precedent for the changes in the juvenile system. According to the case, Gault, who was 15 years of age at the time, had been held in a detention facility for making obscene phone calls while he was on probation. The juvenile court in Arizona decieded to put the minor in the State Industrial School until he turned 21 years of age or was "discharged by due process of the law." The decision by the Supreme Court stressed the importance of youth having the right to receive fair treatment under the law citing: (1) "the right to receive notice of charges; (2) the right to obtain legal counsel; (3) the right to confrontation and cross examination; (4) the privilege against self-incrimination; (5) the right to receive a transcript of the proceedings; and (6) the right to appellate review (Klein, 1984).

1968 saw the passing of the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act that was established to encourage states to generate programs and plans that would be operational on a community level to dissuade juvenile delinquency. Federal funding was available for those programs that were approved (Carter, 1984). In 1974, the United States developed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act as the impetus was to actually prevent delinquency and not just deflect and defer delinquency. As part of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Runaway Youth Program, the National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention were established (Carter, 1984).

According to history, because of the increase of criminal activity in the late 80's and 90's, additional measures were enacted to "get tough on crime" (Butts & Mears, 2001, p. 171). From 1990-1999, the number of youth offenders in juvenile courts that were formally processed rose from approximately 650,000 to approximately 1,000,000 (Puzzanchera et al., 2003) which represented an increase that significantly outweighed the roughly 3% increase in arrests of juveniles covering the same period of time (Snyder, 2002). Explanation for the rapid increase a well as the discrepancy in numbers is reportedly related to the manner in which law handled juvenile justice cases and how they were disposed of. From 1980 to 1990, there were reportedly 58 to 64% of juveniles that were arrested referred to juvenile court and from 1990 to 1999, that number rose from 60% to nearly 72% (Snyder, 2003).The amendment to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act allowed states to treat juvenile criminal offenders as adults in some situations; for example, when a weapon was used or a violent crime was committed. There was also the institution of the minimal detention standards in many states. Ofttimes, these are 'one size fits all offense driven' sanctions imposed with little to no consideration for individual circumstances or needs (Sanborn & Salerno, 2004, p. 377). Since that time until the present, increased focus has been on the juvenile justice system, resulting from highly publicized violent crimes, increased gang activity, and shootings in many of the schools across the country (Carlsson & Decker, 2005).

Question of Effectiveness

Title V, meaning from laws enacted in 1992, is based on the idea of effective prevention of delinquency that 'beings with an understanding of risk and protective factors" (Caliber Associates, 2002, p. 4). One of the components of this initiative that many find encouraging is the reliance on what has been learned from epidemiological criminology career criminals, and studies regarding individuals, families, educational systems, factors in the community and society that place children at risk of involvement in increasingly more serious delinquent behavior. Moreover, the focus is based on what has been learned from protective factor research that serves to diminish exposure to risk and what has been learned from modern advances in evaluative research regarding intervention strategies that have proven to be ineffective and those that have proven to be effective (Sherman et al., 1998). It is important to highlight, however, that in order for a community or state to be eligible for Title V funding, there must be participating in research-based risk assessment and have to select prevention strategies that have a proven track record of effectiveness (MacKenzie, 2000).

One of the programs that have been highlighted in much of the scholarly literature on the effectiveness of juvenile justice systems and programming is the Communities That Care (CTC) programs that focus on risk targeted prevention. Whole communities vs. individual agencies receive technical assistance and funding with the Communities That Care program for the implementation of coordinated delinquency prevention programming. The system established by the CTC has been regarded as systematic in the number of steps involved that include: (1) rallying leaders in the community to support the prevention programs targeted to delinquents; (2) the appointment of a board in the community that is made up of youth determined to be at risk, parents, as well as representatives from all levels of the legal and justice system, both private and public organizations that serve youth, community stakeholders, industry and business; (3)the board carrying out risk assessment and evaluation of the protective factors in the community; taking into account resources that already exist; (4) using the information that has been gathered as a foundation for determining the priority for delinquency prevention plans; and (5) addressing the community's most significant problems, ensuring that present resources are coordinated, and implementing new programs that research has determined to be most effective (Caliber Associates, 2002).

One of the concerns, however, with programs like CTC is that a number of community-based programs are fragmented at best and although the intention of the programs may be on target, how that translates into community action does not necessarily correlate. Because of some of the rules, policies and procedures organizations have to adhere to, both public and private, community-based programs tend to lack coordinated effort (Whitehead & Lab, 2004). Another concern expressed by many on the front lines of juvenile justice is the faddish nature of some of the programs that are proposed and implemented at the community level. Most often, these kinds of programs focus on short-term goals in response to high profile media cases or political agendas without taking into consideration the long-term implications. Because prevention-based programs that look to make an impact over the long-term have had difficulty being funded, more of the short-term programs appeal to the present day (Whitehead & Lab, 2004). Ofttimes, those in public office that are responsible for funding prevention and anti-crime programs look for immediacy and results that are quantifiable (Whitehead & Lab, 2004). Additionally, many in the field posit that prevention programs have had to try and replace other programs that have not had a good track record or failed outright. As such, there are those in the industry who posit the effectiveness of secondary prevention programs vs. primary prevention programs.

An example of a secondary prevention program is that of the teen courts, established in many cities across the United States. Tee or youth courts are considered by many to be informal courts that youth offenders are referred to instead of the more formalized process. In order for an individual to be head in youth court, they must first take responsibility for the offense or offenses he or she has committed and charged and further agree to honor the decision made in youth court (Butts, Hoffman & Buck, 1999). What the juvenile receives in return is the charges being dismissed. More times than not, those juvenile offenders referred to youth… [END OF PREVIEW]

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