Juvenile Court Philosophy Essay

Pages: 5 (1751 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Juvenile Court Philosophy

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) offers the reader and researcher many insightful documents regarding the history of the juvenile justice movement, based almost entirely in the ideals of a few to create systems that responded more humanely to juvenile perpetrators of crime and the more modern movement to provide accountability and retribution for juvenile crime. In the document offering are two insightful articles one of which argues against the use of the death penalty among juvenile offenders, based upon the special considerations of youth as outlined by the Supreme Court and the juvenile justice system of understanding youth mentalities and understanding. (Cothern, 2000) Another insightful article outlines almost to the year, but more realistically to the decade, the movement toward stricter and more adult like reactions to youth crime, and especially serious crime committed by youths who are considered habitual offenders of such crimes. (Medaris 1996)Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Juvenile Court Philosophy Assignment

Each of these articles defines many realistic considerations for the enforcement of criminal laws upon juvenile offenders as such actions have evolved over the years. Cothern's article provides a very definitive overview of the history of both the juvenile justice system, as it was conceived and as it has evolved over the years to include sentencing options (i.e. The death penalty and life in prison) for offenders who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime(s) in question. The article also provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the use of the death penalty as an option in the whole of the criminal population as well as against youth, and specifically highlights supreme court considerations of the issue and the stipulations the supreme court has applied to youth sentencing (criminal prosecution as adults) and the special circumstances of changing perceptions of crime and public safety. In basic summation the article describes the evolution of the death penalty as it applies to youth and adults, and confirms that even the special circumstances described by supreme court opinion, such as the particular responsibility of the court to consider mitigating circumstances of the individual juveniles life as crucial to the implementation of the sentencing, have been ignored in the face of limited resources. This Cothern contends goes completely against the goal of the juvenile justice system intention of consideration for youth crime rehabilitation as apposed to retribution. Probably the most telling information is Cothern's assessment of a diagnostic evaluation study conducted on a large group of individuals sentenced to death for crimes committed as juveniles that shows the dissonance from the supreme court's demands of the criminal court system to discover and make record mitigating circumstances of youth, prior to imposing or even considering a death sentence as apposed to alternative options for sentencing.

In the mid-1980's, Lewis and colleagues (1988) conducted diagnostic evaluations of 14 (40%) of the 37 juvenile offenders on death row in the United States.12 Through these comprehensive assessments, Lewis and colleagues found that all 14 had sustained head injuries as children. Nine had major neuropsychological disorders, 7 had had psychotic disorders since early childhood, and 7 had serious psychiatric disturbances. Seven were psychotic at the time of evaluation or had been diagnosed in early childhood. Only two had IQ scores above 90 (100 is considered average). Only three had average reading abilities, and another three had learned to read on death row. Twelve reported having been brutally abused physically, sexually, or both, and five reported having been sodomized by relatives. Many of these factors, however, had not been placed in evidence at the time of trial or sentencing and had not been used to establish mitigating circumstances: "The time and expertise required to document the necessary clinical information were not available. Furthermore, the attorneys' alliances were often divided between the juveniles and their families. [O]n several occasions, attorneys who chose to make use of our evaluations requested that we conceal or minimize parental physical and sexual abuse to spare the family.... Brain damage, paranoid ideation, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, all relevant to issues of mitigation, were either overlooked or deliberately concealed" (Lewis et al., 1988:588). (Cothern, 2000, pp. 5-6)

Cothern then goes on to describe several other modern research studies which found mitigating circumstances, beyond the mitigating circumstance of youth which is significant, either unexplored or ignored by courts in juvenile death sentence cases:

Robinson and Stephens applied (see table 3). 5 descriptive categories to 91 juveniles who had been sentenced to death between 1973 and 1991. The categories were based on mitigating circumstances that had been established by the evidence and were in addition to "youth" -- a mitigating factor established in Eddings v. Oklahoma. Robinson found that: l Almost half of those sentenced had troubled family histories and social backgrounds and problems such as physical abuse, unstable childhood environments, and illiteracy. l Twenty-nine suffered psychological disturbances (e.g., profound depression, paranoia, self-mutilation). l Just under one-third exhibited mental disability evidenced by low or borderline IQ scores. l More than half were indigent. l Eighteen were involved in intensive substance abuse before the crime. Juveniles sentenced to death share varying combinations of these mitigating circumstances, in addition to their youthful age. In 61 of the 91 cases (67%), one or more factors in addition to "youth" was present. (Cothern, 2000, p. 6)

Cothern then goes on to stress the disproportionate application of laws and standards across the states with regard to minorities as well as other applications of the death penalty toward youth offenders. All of his observations stress the need to again reevaluate the use of the death penalty as an option in youth cases as well as the use of the death penalty at all in the modern world. Overall the work is a fair representation of both sides but concludes that there needs to be a challenge to such sentencing and an invigorated stress of maintaining standards for youth consideration as well as mitigating circumstances of youth in criminal court proceedings and standards. In short Cothern stresses that at the very least we need to follow the legal precedence already in place, as the previous quote stresses that more than 50% of the cases of capital punishment sentences for offences committed by youth did not follow the guidelines of the most recent supreme court rulings on the subject.

In contrast to Cothern's message regarding the challenge to the use of the death sentence for juvenile offenders is the OJJDP factsheet regarding the increased need for identification and referral to adult criminal courts of juveniles who are considered serious habitual offenders and a set of (extremely broad) guidelines associated with decisions regarding such labeled juveniles. (Medaris, 1996) it is clear from the Medaris document that the flavor of juvenile justice was seriously altered within the 1980s and 90s to include not only the traditional rehabilitative ideal but to include a much greater emphasis on retribution and accountability for those offenders who are perceived to be causing undue public safety risk. The movement coincides with minimum mandatory sentencing laws as well as three strikes laws that have moved criminal decision making out of the hands of judges and into standards set without the assessment of mitigating circumstances for adults and/or juveniles. Medaris, does not attempt to further define the very broad objectives outlined by Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP).

SHOCAP has three objectives:

To provide a structured, coordinated juvenile justice system focus on crimes committed by habitual juvenile offenders.

To establish specific juvenile justice policies that enhance the effectiveness of procedures regarding habitual juvenile offenders.

To promote public safety by identifying, tracking, arresting, and prosecuting the most violent habitual juvenile offenders.

In short, SHOCAP identifies a community's most dangerous and violent juvenile offenders and focuses community resources on immediate intervention or detention when they reoffend. The program prevents youth from falling through the cracks by ensuring that their case information is available immediately for juvenile justice decisionmakers. (Medaris, 1996, para.# 3)

The program is very obviously intended to answer public fear rather that provide rehabilitative services for juvenile offenders that have entered the system more than once and likely on a sliding scale from relatively minor to very serious criminal offences. Though Medaris does outline, if very briefly, the research that was utilized to establish the need for such a program and the intention of collaborative communication between services is essential and necessary for the appropriate application of juvenile justice the program is a clear indication of the changing mentality of the juvenile justice system. Which is clearly in line with public sentiment regarding perceptions of public safety (or in this case lack of safety) rather than the need to intervene early enough and effectively enough not to have to identify so many Serious Habitual Offenders or SHOs, as the article labels them but to provide adequate rehabilitation alternatives that alter the perceived accelerated pattern of offences they are arrested and convicted of.

Performing an initial needs assessment is the first step in implementing SHOCAP. Community leaders should… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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