Juvenile Court Term Paper

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Juvenile Injustice: How the Juvenile Justice System Fails at-Risk Kids

The juvenile justice system is a difficult system to define, because it has two goals. One of its goals is to punish offenders who have committed criminal offenses and are considered at risk for reoffending. However, its other goal is to protect at-risk juveniles. The main problem is that there can be a serious conflict between looking out for the best interests of society-at-large and the best interests of a specific juvenile offender. Juvenile offenders can be as violent and dangerous as adult offenders, and, in addition to any criminality, literally lack the brain capacity to exercise the self-control that one may demand of an adult-offender. On the other hand, that very lack of self-control is the primary reason that juvenile offenders should be treated differently than adult offenders, because a juvenile who poses a danger to himself or others may be much more easily rehabilitated than a similarly-situated adult offender.

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TOPIC: Term Paper on Juvenile Court Assignment

In Fairfax County, Virginia, juvenile offenders may be detained at the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center. Minors charged with delinquent offenses are held pending hearing or disposition. The Center has a total capacity of 77 boys and girls, with 7 living units of 11 youth each. Two trained and experienced child care workers are in each living unit from 7am until 11pm. (County of Fairfax Virginia, Juvenile detention center general information, 2011). Parents are notified if children re-offend, attempt self-harm, or needs emergency care. Otherwise, parents will learn about the child's behavior while detained from the court report (County of Fairfax Virginia, Juvenile detention center general information, 2011). The program at the Center is very structured, and consists of: socials, movies, therapeutic recreation, alcohol/drug education, school, values clarification group sessions, human sexual awareness and health, and optional religious services (County of Fairfax Virginia, Juvenile detention center general information, 2011). The Center's professional staff includes nurses, a pediatrician, a psychologist, and a mental health therapist (County of Fairfax Virginia, Juvenile detention center general information, 2011).

Fairfax County, Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court

There are two different ways for at-risk children who have offended to be processed through the juvenile court system: delinquency and status offenses. "Delinquency is defined as criminal complaints filed against a juvenile 17 and under" (County of Fairfax Virginia, Delinquency, 2011). These crimes may be felonies or misdemeanors. In contrast, status offenses are those acts that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, and include truancy, running away, tobacco possession, or curfew violations (County of Fairfax Virginia, Status offenses, 2011). Status offenses may lead to two types of petitions filed by the juvenile court: Child in Need of Services (CHINServ) and Child in Need of Supervision (CHINSup). A CHINServ is a child whose behavior presents a threat to the safety and physical well-being of that child. A CHINSup is a child who is either habitually truant or a habitual runaway (County of Fairfax Virginia, Status offenses, 2011).

Problems with Juvenile Detention

On the surface, juvenile detention services seem like the best-alternative solution for children whose misbehavior places themselves or others in danger. After all, the fact that children are not as capable of self-control as adults indicates that they should not be subject to the same punishment as adults. Moreover, children's physical frailty argues against placing them in a general population prison setting, even if the child has been convicted of a dangerous or violent crime. However, the problem with juvenile detention is that it oftentimes fails to provide the rehabilitative services that society agrees are a necessary function of juvenile detention. Instead, in many situations these facilities become mini-prisons. Instead of learning adaptive behaviors, these detained children may simply learn more maladaptive behaviors, making them ultimately incompatible with a lifestyle of freedom.

There may also be serious problems with how juvenile-justice facilities are fun. In general, the juvenile system is subject to less scrutiny than the adult system. This is because of the hybrid nature of the juvenile system, where it is assumed that the state is acting as guardian to juvenile offenders, not merely as warden. In Texas, some juveniles were held long beyond their original sentences and many were subject to sexual abuse (Stier, 2009). The juvenile system generally fails to give juveniles the chance to turn their lives around after committing even minor offenses (Stier, 2009). There has been some progress; for example, the U.S. outlawed the practice of executing offenders who were minors at the time they committed their crimes, based on evidence that the frontal lobe is not fully developed in adolescence (Stier, 2009). Smaller facilities, which are more likely to mirror children's homes, have been shown to be more effective at reducing recidivism (Stier, 2009). In addition, offering specialized services, aimed at fixing the underlying problem that contributed to the delinquency in the first place, have been shown to help reduce recidivism (Stier, 2009). Unfortunately, many places fail to offer these services or small-size facilities. One of the major problems is that there is a lot of money to be found in juvenile detention services; ensuring that nobody profits from juvenile detention may be one of the best means of reducing the number of detained juveniles.

One of the biggest issues with the juvenile detention system is that, like most of the criminal justice system in America, there is tremendous racial bias. It would be unfair and simplistic to suggest that all of the workers in the juvenile justice system are racist and go after black or Hispanic youth more vigorously than white youth. However, there is no doubt that poverty contributes to delinquency rates, and race is still one of the best predictors of poverty in the United States. A youth with financial means who commits an offense like vandalism may be able to escape prosecution by paying restitution to the victim. For an impoverished youth, whose parents lack the means to pay restitution, that option may be closed. Wealthy youth are more likely to have access to powerful attorneys, private drug or alcohol treatment centers, and private mental hospitals, all of which can help prevent a child from being incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility. Furthermore, while not all actors in the juvenile justice system can be labeled racist, it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that brown-skinned people continue to be treated harsher than whites in the court system, even when other social factors have been eliminated as the source of such bias. In other words, a white youth and a brown youth from the same family situation and financial background, who have committed the same offenses, are likely to be treated differently, and the brown-skinned child generally receives a harsher punishment.

Latino Youth in Juvenile Detention

It would be almost impossible to overstate the critical nature of the relationship between the juvenile justice system and Hispanic youth. "On any given day, close to 18,000 Latino youth are incarcerated in America, the majority for non-violent offenses (Chambers, 2009). Most of these youth are held in some type of juvenile facility, but almost one-quarter of them are held in adult prisons or jails (Chambers, 2009). This fact is very alarming, because "youth in adult facilities are in significant danger of suicide and rape" (Chambers, 2009). Latino youth are treated differently than white youth by the juvenile justice system. Latino youth are: "4% more likely to be petitioned; 16% more likely to be adjudicated delinquent; 28% more likely to be detained; 41% more likely to receive an out-of-home placement; 43% more likely than white youth to be waived to the adult system; and 40% more likely to be admitted to adult prison" (Chambers, 2009). Though Virginia is not one of these stats, it is critical to note that in five states, California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, "Latino youth are incarcerated in adult prison at rates of over 5 times that of white youth" (Chambers, 2009).

Special Concerns for Hispanic Youth in Juvenile Detention

Hispanic youth face particular problems in the juvenile justice system that are not experienced by white youth. Part of this may be due to the disparate treatment that these youth receive at the hands of the system, while some of the differences may be attributed to different cultural norms and standards. For example, Latino youth are nearly twice as likely as white youth to attempt suicide in the general population (Neelum et al., 2009). Given that incarcerated or detained children are at an increased risk of suicide, one has to consider suicide as a particular risk for detained Latino youth. Moreover, "Latino youth as a group are already the most likely group to be out of school and without a high school diploma and prosecution in the adult system creates additional barriers to education. Many youth who are incarcerated in adult jails do not have access to education; 40% of jails provide no education services at all according to the most recent education… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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