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Posted on June 8th, 2012, by

  1. 1.            Juvenile offenders only become better criminals after getting waived to adult jurisdictions

Nowadays the problem of juvenile delinquency is growing to be more and more important. At the same time, traditional methods of struggle with juvenile crimes turn to be not effective. As a result, the legislative waiver has become quite widely spread in recent years in many cities in relation to the cases of violent juvenile offenders. This measure is considered to be quite efficient since it provides an opportunity to transfer a juvenile offender to an adult court and, consequently, his crime is supposed to be viewed from the perspective of a crime committed by an adult.

However, in actuality, the legislative waiver has a number of opponents who insist that this is totally unacceptable and, what is more, it does not meet the main goal of the justice it does not make juvenile delinquents any better. In stark contrast, it is estimated that the legislative waiver contributes only to the deterioration of the position of juvenile offenders and threatens to their future as they would more likely to become better criminals after getting waived to adult jurisdiction.

This position is quite understandable and reasonable since it is true that there is a significant different between adult and juvenile jurisdiction, while the waiver eliminates this difference and juvenile offenders are tried as adult offenders. Practically, it means that juveniles, on committing a crime, may get an adult sentence. In such a way, there occur the overlapping of juvenile crime and adult jurisdiction that is really unacceptable because, regardless the crimes committed by juveniles they are not adults yet and, thus, they should not be transferred to adult courts.

Naturally, the supporters of the legislative waiver may argue that sometimes juvenile delinquents commit crimes that are really shocking and even adult criminals are sometimes unable to commit similar acts. For instance, according to some researches (Kornhauser 1998), the homicide arrest rate for juveniles jumped 87% between 1980 and 1990. In fact, juveniles account for 15% of all homicide, 16% of rape, 26% of robbery, 15% of assault, 44% of motor vehicle theft, 334% of burglary, 23% of weapon possession, and 23% of drug possession. In total, juveniles account for 16% of all crimes committed in the US every year (Kornhauser 1998).

Naturally such a trend is really disturbing, but in response to the arguments of supporters of the legislative waiver it is possible to say that juvenile delinquents are not adults and neither physically nor morally they are fully shape as adult personalities. This is why their psychological state is less stable than that of adults and, what is more, they are more imposed to external influences of either their peers or adults. As a result, they can commit crimes under their influence and cannot be fully responsible for the crimes since, anyway, they are juveniles and it is adults who are, to a significant extent, responsible for their behavior. This is why we cannot simply transfer them to adult courts for the crimes which graveness they cannot fully understand and they will hardly be able to adequately perceive the punishment as fair or deserved. Consequently, they will hardly learn any lessons from their punishment.

  1. 2.            The effects of the Gault ruling

Speaking about the Gault ruling, it is necessary to emphasize that this ruling is typical for the present epoch and the existing trends within system of juvenile justice. It should be said that some specialists (Van den Haag 1995) viewed the Gault ruling as the vehicle for reforming the existing juvenile justice system, though in actuality this ruling rather reveals the fact that the existing system is not perfect and that the search for its improvements is still essential.

Basically, the supporters of the Gault ruling insist that juveniles should be given many of the same rights that the Constitution guaranteed to adults. For instance, some specialists (Norval 1994) suggested that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required giving juveniles written notice of the charges against them, allowing them to confront their accusers, and informing them that they had the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to be represented by an attorney.

The general effect of the Gault ruling is to affirm that children have constitutional rights, although their rights are somewhat more limited than the rights of adults. Naturally, this ruling influenced the existing juvenile justice system as it actually posed the dilemma what are the Constitutional rights that juvenile should or should not be limited in.

Obviously, the Gault ruling has become a part of the continuing controversies in the juvenile justice system. In fact, this ruling may be viewed as a logical response to supporters of the legislative waiver for it is quite natural that if juvenile delinquents can be transferred to adult courts than they should naturally have the same rights as adult do as they are tried under the adult jurisdiction. At the same time, this ruling also demonstrates the crisis of the existing juvenile justice system since nowadays there is no definite answer to the questions concerning the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system. To put it more precisely, the existing juvenile justice system does not lead to the decreasing crime rates among juvenile delinquents and neither more sever nor less strict rules and sentences has improved the situation. As a result, specialists still attempt to find a plausible solution of this problem and the Gault ruling may be viewed as one of such attempts. It focuses on juveniles’ rights and, in such a way, it not only enlarges their rights but increases the level of their responsibility that may contribute to the growing consciousness of their anti-social behavior and crimes. This may potentially lead to more careful and responsible behavior of juveniles and decrease the crime rates though, at the present moment, the situation has not changed dramatically.

  1. 3.            The merge of the juvenile and adult justice systems

It is true that the growing problem of juvenile delinquency led to the general belief that it is necessary to merge the juvenile and adult justice systems. Basically, this statement seems to be quite reasonable and such a shift from two different systems to their complete merge has its own advantages. However, it is still necessary to be very careful with such experiments and, primarily, it is necessary to objectively assess whether the benefits from such a merge would outweigh its costs.

On analyzing this problem, it is necessary to agree with the supporters of the merge that nowadays the level of juvenile crimes is quite high (Van den Haag 1995). In such a situation, the society responds to the growing crime rates among juveniles by growing punishment. The public opinion rather tends to more severe punishment for crimes committed by juveniles, to the extent that it should be equal to the punishment of adults.

However, it is possible to estimate that such trends are highly emotional and, in actuality, the justice system should be only controlled by the public opinion but not ruled. What is meant here is the idea that the public opinion is often emotional and is not justified by purely legal norms and principles and, moreover, it can be simply illogical and unfair. In such a context the merge of juvenile and adult justice systems seems to be unnecessary and even undesirable since the wide public has a vague idea about the problem of juvenile crimes and juvenile psychology.

Instead, specialists (Bohm 2001) underline that juveniles are really different from adults and, thus they cannot be as responsible for their crimes as adults do.

In fact, it is quite simple logic since juvenile delinquents cannot fully control their own behavior. As a rule, their behavior and actions are highly emotional and can be provoked by their peers or adults. As a result, they can commit a crime under the impact of circumstances or external pressure being unconscious of the importance of their actions.

To put it in simple words, while committing a crime they can think that there is nothing bad about it, or they do it because their friends do the same and it is considered to be normal in their peer group. By the way, the latter is particularly important since peer groups are more important for juveniles than their parents or other adults. This is why juvenile delinquents do not fully understand existing social norms as adults do and, thus, they cannot be punished as severe as adults are.

In such a way, in response to the supporters of the merge of juvenile and adult justice, it should be said that such a merge would be ineffective and would rather serve as a perfect school for juvenile delinquents where they could mature and perfect their criminal inclinations instead of changing their lifestyle, behavior, mentality. Instead, it seems to be more effective to improve the existing juvenile justice system and if necessary increase funding of agencies dealing with juvenile delinquents in order to educate them and provide them with more opportunities to find their own non-criminal way in their life.

  1. 4.            The use of services of behavioral scientists and psychologists in the juvenile justice system

Nowadays, it is evident that the work of the juvenile justice system is inefficient and, to a significant extent, it is predetermined by the lack of specialists who could understand and forecast the behavior of juvenile delinquents and really help them. In this respect, the assistance of behavioral scientists and psychologists may be very helpful. In fact, it is evident that the causes of juvenile delinquency are not only socio-economic by nature since these problems existed always and in the past they were even more serious than they are at the present moment. This is why the causes of the growing rates of juvenile crimes may be found in socio-cultural and psychological domain.

In this respect, it is worthy of mention that the understanding of juveniles behavior and the knowledge of their psychology is getting to be of a paramount importance in the struggle against juvenile delinquency. The role of socio-cultural environment has been always significant for all people but to juveniles its impact is even more serious than to adults. As it has been already mentioned above, juveniles are more dependent on their social environment, especially on their peer groups, but the modern socio-cultural environment produce a profoundly negative impact on the psychology and behavior of juveniles. For instance, pop culture, television, media often propagate violence and even adults who are actually responsible for the upbringing of juveniles are characterized by violent behavior. No wonder that the rate of juvenile delinquency in the families, where parents are characterized by a violent behavior or even are imprisoned, is substantially higher than in non-violent families (Bohm 2001).

As a result, it is obvious that the behavior of juvenile delinquents is predetermined by a variety of external factors but the problem is that they cannot cope with these problems themselves and they need help from the part of specialists, notably behavior scientists and psychologists. In fact, the help of behavior scientists and psychologists can prevent the crimes or anti-social behavior of juveniles since the juvenile delinquency is often the result of psychological problems or some internal conflict which is provoked by controversies between the character of a juvenile delinquent and his social environment, or between conflict between the values of his peer group and the values of society. In such a situation, psychological help or the help of behavior scientist can be really effective as they can help juveniles to cope with their psychological problems, give them a piece of advice, etc. Anyway, often juvenile adults do not simply have an adult they could trust or talk to. Finally, it should be said that if socio-economic problems causing juvenile delinquency cannot be eliminated than psychological problems can be minimized reducing the rate of juvenile delinquency.

  1. 5.            Juvenile crime and restitution and reparation

Traditionally, restitution and reparation are considered to be an essential element of any reform of juvenile justice policies. It should be pointed out that it is really important since juvenile delinquents are not always full conscious of the offense they commit. In such a situation, it is necessary to develop an effective system which could guarantee the victim of the offense certain restitution or reparation. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that restitution and reparation is important for both an offender and a victim.

On the one hand, it is important for an offender since the juvenile delinquents often cannot understand what the consequences of their offenses are and they believe that they can act as they want without a real threat of being punished. Moreover, even if they are punished for their crime they may perceive it as an unjust punishment which, nonetheless, does not refer to the victim in anyway. In other words, if the goal of the offense was abuse of the victim, than the juvenile delinquent would not feel really punished if there were no restitution or reparation. Practically, it means that aiming at abusing the victim the offender could feel his/her superiority since without restitution or reparation his/her victim remained abused and he/she did owe anything to the victim that means that the offense met the goal of the juvenile delinquent. Potentially, this can stimulate juvenile delinquents to continue such crimes since they feel their superiority in relation to their victims. However, if they had to pay certain restitution or reparation, offenders would undoubtedly realize that their offense and direct consequences which compensate the victim at least the part of the harm caused by the offender. In such a situation, the victim turns to be in a better position since morally he/she defeats the offender forcing by means of law to pay restitution or reparation.

As for the victim, it is obvious that the offense may cause a profound psychological as well as physical trauma. This is why restitution or reparation is essential to morally or physically, or both, restore the victim state. In such a case, victims will know that there is a law that will protect them if necessary and that offense will be always punished, preventing them from a profound depression, or, what is probably worse, from delinquent behavior in revenge for the offense.

It is also worthy of mention that restitution and reparation can be an effective preventive tool since it will make juvenile delinquents to think about possible necessity to compensate the harm caused to victims that decreases the risk of anti-social, aggressive and abusive behavior. Anyway, the argument that restitution and reparation are irrelevant since the juvenile justice system can find a severe punishment without restitution or reparation is not convincing because without the direct compensation to victims juvenile delinquents will simply feel as if they are unpunished, or punished unjustly if their victims could not force them to compensate the harm caused by offenders.

6. Abolishing of juvenile justice system

In actuality, the juvenile justice system cannot be by any means abolished. In fact, this is an institutional question since the abolishing of the juvenile justice threatens to the institution of democracy and human rights. The reason is quite simple, juvenile delinquents, regardless the fact that they commit crimes, cannot be deprived of a possibility to get punished by the justice system which takes into consideration all, or some of the factors that are uniquely typical for juvenile delinquency. Practically, it means that the abolition of the juvenile justice system would lead to the total victory of supporters of the legislative waiver. As a result, juvenile delinquents would be deprived of a possibility to get proper treatment and sentences corresponding to their age, physical and psychological state. In fact, the abolition of the juvenile justice would practically mean the life sentence for many juvenile delinquents who, being transferred to the adult court and sentenced, would be deprived of a practical opportunities to change their life dramatically since, as it has been mentioned above, often prison turns to be just a better school for criminals.

Naturally, it is possible to argue that the abolition of the juvenile justice system would save funds, there would be no duplication of personnel, records and facilities. The juvenile delinquents would probably become more responsible or scared if the punishment were more severe and equal to adult justice system. However, in such a situation, a logical question raises: whether the punishment is the final goal of the justice. It seems as if the answer is evident no. The justice should treat all criminals equally but in accordance with their crime and their state of mind, psychology, abilities, consciousness, etc. As juvenile delinquents are different than they should have a different justice system.

7. Overhauling of the juvenile justice system

The overhauling of the juvenile justice system seems to be another radical offer, though, it is necessary to agree that the existing juvenile justice system needs substantial improvement. It is not a secret that the existing juvenile justice system does not prevent the juvenile delinquency and cannot fully protect juveniles from offenses. Nonetheless, it would be better to speak about certain improvement of the juvenile justice system but not overhauling because the latter rather resembles a kind of total change or revolution because it may be too harmful and destroy all the positive achievements of the existing juvenile justice system.

In such a way, it is necessary to change some parts of the existing juvenile justice system. For instance, the punishment of the juvenile delinquents seems to be exposed to the experiments that cannot contribute to stability and, thus, effectiveness of punishment. In fact, it is hardly possible to totally eliminate juvenile delinquency by gradually making the punishment more and more severe. Eventually, it will lead to the strong opposition of society since it is impossible to punish juveniles as severe as adults.

Furthermore, the problem of punishment should be accompanied by the problem of juveniles’ rights. Nowadays, it is obvious that as the punishment tends to get more severe than it would be logical to provide juvenile delinquents with larger rights.

However, the major problem of the existing juvenile justice system is the prevention of delinquency since crime rates either remain stable or grow but do not decrease, while effectiveness of punishment remains very low.

8. Possible alternatives

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to estimate that the existing juvenile justice system should be improved and some alternative approaches should be used. In this respect, the most important changes should refer to the prevention of juvenile delinquency and recidivism among juvenile offenders. Practically, this means that juveniles should primarily understand the socially acceptable forms of behavior, their importance and necessity to follow them. If they understand that it is necessary to act in accordance with social norms they will not commit offenses at large scale. It is possible to recommend improve educational work, creating some special programs which would focus on moral problems and social norms. By the way, such programs may be quite effective for juveniles who have already committed a crime. In fact, such juveniles should rather get a chance to change themselves and their life learning social norms and acquiring essential social skills instead of going to prison, for instance.

Finally, nowadays it is necessary to increase the role of community in the work with juvenile delinquents since social environment can produce a really strong impact on juveniles and decrease the trend to delinquency and anti-social behavior. Anyway, juveniles will hardly commit crimes as long as they feel that they are a part of the community and not outcasts.

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