Research Paper: Juvenile Court System

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¶ … Juvenile Court System

The many young children and teenagers currently institutionalized for criminal behavior and violence are products, first, of their environment, and, second, of society as a whole. These young offenders constitute one of the most vulnerable segments of American society, and there remains a disjointed thinking amongst the public and professionals as to what responsibility people beyond the child's home have for the safety and well being of a minor child. Once in the system of protective custodies like the Department of Children and Family Services, or foster state-sponsored foster care, there is often a continuum of disjointed thinking, lack of professional decision making on behalf of the children, and they become lost within a massive system of further abuse and neglect and are very much forgotten unless or until they become the object of sensationalism by way of violence being perpetrated against them, or by them against others.

The plight of children who come into the criminal justice is offset by the justice system's view that in order to best protect the rights of minor children, and to ensure them the best platform for an understanding of the criminality of their actions, and how those actions were precipitated by their inability to make adult decisions on their own behalf, the system established a juvenile justice system that is understandably expected to be expert in the handling of juvenile justice cases.

The juvenile justice system as we know it today has undergone changes reflective of society's perceptions and attitudes about juvenile justice. Steven M. Cox, Jennifer M. Allen, Robert D. Hanser, and John J. Conrad (2008), in their book Juvenile Justice: A Guide to Theory, Policy, and Practice, document the history of the juvenile justice system from a non-existent system where there was no distinguishing penalties imposed on children from those imposed on adults, to one championed by suffrage activists that began the earliest systems, and, the court challenges and cases that have evolved the juvenile justice system into its present carnation where we seem to have come if not full circle, more than half a circle to the beginnings, as children are now tried as adults for heinous crimes, regardless of their age.

A 2002 Pensacola, Florida case of two brothers, 13 and 14 years old, brought national attention to the entangled lives of these two young offenders who were tried and prosecuted for the murder of their father, and, then, attempting to cover it up by setting their home on fire, and who were tried as adults (Canedy, 2002, New York Times online). The case took several turns; first, when it came to the public's attention that the young boys had suffered neglect, abuse, and perhaps even sexual abuse over the course of their lives (Canedy, online). Then, an adult was arrested, alleged to have influenced the boys to murder their father (Canedy, online). It was a complex case, and one that baffled the public when the prosecutor, David Rimmer, took different prosecutorial approaches to the cases of the adult neighbor, 40-year-old Ricky Chavis; and the brothers, Alex and Derek King.

"A separate jury acquitted Ricky Chavis, a 40-year-old family friend, who was tried for the same killing of the boys' father, Terry Lee King. Mr. Chavis is said to have been sexually obsessed with Alex. The age of the boys and the nature of the crime brought extensive attention to the case from the beginning. But the prosecutors' approach greatly increased the attention and brought criticism from legal experts, who said it was rare to conduct separate prosecutions for a crime that only one defendant or set of defendants could have committed.

.David Rimmer, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted both cases, was under a court order of silence during the trials. But today Mr. Rimmer said that his office brought both cases because the boys confessed to the crime before recanting before a grand jury and saying they were covering up for Mr. Chavis. Mr. Rimmer said that it was up to the juries to decide which version of the events was accurate and that they did so today. "I felt there was enough circumstantial evidence that he motivated and influenced them," Mr. Rimmer said of Mr. Chavis. "The boys said he was the perpetrator, but the jury rejected their testimony. They didn't believe it (Canedy, online)."

Chavis was acquitted, but both boys face long prison sentences in a system that once they become adults, they will be poorly equipped mentally or emotionally to deal with. The boys are victim of a social system that allowed them to fall through the cracks of Florida's children institutions and organizations charged with ensuring their well being. Verdicts in cases like the King brothers and other young offenders tend to take the general public aback, causing us to wonder what went wrong in the lives of young children who relied upon adults to make decisions for them in their best interest, and who miserably failed them at the most crucial periods in their lives.

Yet the system maintains a stalwart protection over young children and teenage offenders. In March 2005, a case titled Roper v Simmons was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in the reversal of a 1989 precedent, and struck down the death penalty for crimes committed by people under the age of 18 years old (Cox, et al., 11). The ruling increased the age for the death penalty from 17 years old, to 18 years old (11).

The nature of crimes being committed by young offenders is today reflective of a social pathology that has increased in the level of violence.

"The perceive3d increase in the number of violent offenses perpetrated by juveniles has led many to ponder whether the juvenile court, originally established to protect and treat juveniles, is adequate to the task of dealing with modern-day offenders. Simultaneously, the concept of restorative justice, which involves an attempt to make victims whole through interaction with and restitution by their offenders, has become popular in juvenile justice (Cox, et al., 13)."

There are many organizations, such as the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which operates out of the U.S. Department of Justice and publishes statistics on juveniles, and the National crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which are all part of the various organizations reviewing juvenile justice cases, conducting family interviews in an effort to identify and intercede in at risk cases, and which attempt to shed light on the precipitating factors leading to juvenile crime. None of these organizations, however, have been able to create family or offender profiles that help the public to fully understand the juvenile offender. Where we would like to perhaps conclude that all juvenile offenders are victims, that concept simply does not bear out statistically. We must look to the greater picture of family and environmental dynamics on a larger social scale, and take that information into account on a case-by-case basis.

Cox, et al., point out that American family dynamics have changed over the past 50 years (48). The number of single-parent households has increased, as has the number households with two parents working, leaving young school-aged children, referred to as "latchkey children," on their own during what might be critical times during the day: before school and after school (48-49). Without parental supervision, it becomes easy for young children to make the wrong choice, and to choose delinquency over going to school, or returning home from school to work on school assignments. Once a child or teen makes the wrong decision, if apprehended, they become a part of an ongoing juvenile justice system that prove a greater hardship to the family once they have to hire lawyers, or make restitution for juvenile related crimes like vandalism, theft, or drugs use.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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