Past and Present: Juvenile Justice Essay

Teenagers all over the world are considered to pass through a psychologically difficult period in their lives. This is the stage, when most of them feel themselves closer to adults, than to children and at the same time they are very inclined to outside influence. Very often this is hard for them to make the correct choices and react adequately to some situations, they are facing in their lives. This is evident, that during this period especially important is the support from their parents, teachers any other public agencies, related to the problems of teenagers.

Coming back to the issue of making correct choices, we have to mention, that unfortunately, there are situations, when youngsters not only do harm to themselves, but to other people as well, committing crimes. The treatment of the problem of the juvenile justice was however quite different in the past and during present times in many aspects.

Historically there have been for and against arguments as for the punishment for children and young offenders. The most common for arguments stated the following:

-            America is known for its violent juvenile crimes, especially homicide and the situation is worse, than in other countries;

-            The mid 1990s brought the increase of juvenile homicides, nowadays the statistics shows the decrease of them, but still the level of public fear of juvenile homicides stays really high after those times;

-            Juvenile murders are characterized by absence of responsibility to civilized entreaties stopping the killing;

-            Some political leaders are insisting on making the punishment for juvenile crimes harder;

-            The most important step to be taken in order to stop or at least decrease the juvenile crimes is to correct the social conditions of life;

As people are concerned about this issue, there are certainly some common arguments against applying of usual penalties towards juveniles;

-            The researches prove, that most of the teenagers, who commit these crimes, had really hard life conditions during their childhood. These conditions and problems do influence their characters and behavior, when they get older;

-            Some medical researches show, that the brains of children do not mature organically before they are in their early twenties, the last thing they usually are able to develop is their impulse control;

-            Usually teenagers have little understanding of the death and they see themselves as immortals and thus even capital punishment would hardly deter them from committing even a serious crime;

-            Such way of punishment is not the best solution of the problem itself, as the really effective solutions would demand the cleaning up the schools and societal structures, which are generating violent teenagers, able to commit crimes;

This is one of the main reasons why the juridical system tries to find the correct ways to protect children, in case they do their wrong choices, and to provide the second chance for them. People under 18 are not taking part in voting, they do not have to go to the military service, but still in some states the laws subscribe the usual penalty for their crimes even of they didn’t reach their adulthood. We all know, that teenagers are usually aware of their actions, but some recent medical researches prove, that they can not be as well accountable as adults. “Studies by the Harvard Medical School, the National Institute of Mental Health and the UCLA’s Department of Neuroscience finds that the frontal and pre-frontal lobes of the brain, which regulate impulse control and judgment, are not fully developed in adolescents” (Anderson, 3). The development is actually completed, when a person is about 18-22 years old. The adolescents are usually more impulsive, they usually make strict judgements about events and people in their lives, they are not completely aware of all the consequences of their actions. There are even cases when because of their immaturity the teenagers are easily influenced by the adult criminals, there are also examples when the adolescents are taking advantage of this during some investigations. They are luckily to give out confessions, which are not true, in case they are intimidated by adults and authority people. They think little about their Miranda Rights, about their right of legal representation.

As crimes, committed by teenagers cannot be considered completely in the same way like those of adults, there was the separate juvenile justice system developed. The major task of this system is to guarantee safety for citizens and to provide rehabilitation help for lawbreakers among teenagers. However it certainly doesn’t mean, that problems with juvenile justice have developed recently, they root from the beginning of the nineteenth century. In this paper we are going to study the historical progress in development of the juvenile justice system to define the differences between past and present approaches; we will indicate the roles of the government, education and family in the formation of youngsters’ identity and views.

Researchers nowadays state, that there are several important factors, which might have the direct influence upon the problems with children and teenagers behavior. “People who deal with young people cite the following root conditions: poverty, family factors, the environment, media influence, and declining social morality” (Thompson, 22). According to statistics, children from poor families are more inclined to committing a crime, than their peers from families with normal income. Poverty usually leads to social isolation and economic stress and exactly these factors influence negatively on the psychological state of a child. As a result he develops negative attitude to the society around him and may conduct a crime.

Speaking about family reasons we have to underline, that the highest rates of juvenile crimes are met in the fatherless families. Normally accepted social role of the father is to protect his family and to guarantee financial stability. Unfortunately recently the number of divorces and single- parent families is growing. Besides the ratio of out-of wedlock children is increasing, mostly among African American babies and Latinos. In the families, where stepparents appear is also a very high risk, that children would feel neglected and abused, which are the first potential reasons for developing violence.

Children are growing and correspondingly are brought up not only in their families, but also under the influence of the environment. If a child suffers from constant abuses and witnesses battering in his region, he makes his own conclusions about the necessary way of behavior. We can not deny, that there are cases, when violence is a potential, but these are rare cases, mostly behavior for children is first of all learnt behavior from the environment.  As soon as desire for violence develops, youngsters do not face any problems in finding application for it. There is an opinion, that the actions of young people are very much influenced by the information, presented in mass media and by the way it is presented. Most of TV shows started to be rather persuasive, taking also into consideration, that in many families television overtakes the role of the babysitter, when the parents are too busy. As it is not possible to exclude television completely from our lives, it is necessary for the parents to have better control of the moral values and norms their child learn from the shows of films he watches.

Finally, we named decline of general social morality in relation to formation of children personalities and views. This impact is rather strong, because in reality children are brought up not only by their parents, but by the whole society as well, as earlier or later they start to expand their contacts outside home.

In the first part of paper we considered the situation, which is at the moment actual for juvenile justices studies and influences; further we are going to check the brief historical development of the juvenile justice systems and the attitudes towards children crimes and punishment in the past.

One of the first attempts to create the juvenile justice system was done in 1800s in order to reconstruct the existing policies for young offenders in America. “Since that time, a number of reforms – aimed at both protecting the “due process of law” rights of youth, and creating an aversion toward jail among the young – have made the juvenile justice system more comparable to the adult system, a shift from the United State’s original intent” (Feld, 2).

The historical period from 1900 till 1918 is referred to as the Progressive Era in the United States, as this was time of considerable social reforms. Such social campaigns as those against children labor, fighting for women rights, for regulation of work conditions and many others took place. Before the Progressive Era seized the control over the social reform, juvenile criminals, who reached the age of seven, were punished together with adult people. This rule developed historically and was waiting for changes. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought serious and more profound researches in the field of psychology and evoke various political and social reforms. This was also the high time for complete reconsideration of the juvenile justice system as well. One of the major concepts, which was supported by the reformers, was the need of rehabilitation and not of punishment for young people and children. In 1824 they build the so-called New York House of Refuge. This was a special place for those young people, whose reputations were not criminally clean already, and who would have been sent to usual jails together with adults. Already by 1899 this practice proved to give positive results and most of the states, aiming at taking care of youth problems, started to create similar reform houses. “Such early changes to the justice system were made under a newfound conviction that society had a responsibility to recover the lives of its young offenders before they became absorbed in the criminal activity they were taking part in” (Pearle, 38). In such homes the state representative took the positions of parents and main guardians of young offenders. This kind of responsibility lied on the state till the moment, when children started to demonstrate positive changes or became adult. During this period already young people were not treated in the same way like adult criminals. The cases of such criminals were heard in special juvenile courts, without attorneys. Extenuating facts were considered by judges along with usual crime facts.

Thus already by the 1960s, juvenile courts worked almost with all cases of people under 18. “The civil proceedings, however, did not afford youths who were indeed facing a potential loss of liberty the due process of law rights explicated in the 5th and 14th Amendments. The right to trial by jury and the freedom against self-incrimination were guaranteed to citizens in 5th Article of the Bill of Rights (ratified 1791)” (Pearle, 40).

In the year 1968 Congress approved the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act. The main target of this act was to push the states to work upon programs and plans for reducing the level of juvenile delinquency. Such programs were supposed to be financially supported by the state. Six years later this system became much stronger and could foresee keeping young offenders apart from adult criminals. The following entities were created: “The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); The Runaway Youth Program, and The National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NIJJDP)” (Fagan, 13). Because of the juvenile crimes wave during the period between 1980s and 1990s, the Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 was amended, thus it allowed to treat juvenile offenders in the same way like adults in cases of violent crimes or crimes committed with weapon. Again a step back was made, when young offenders were considered to be not children who simply got lost, but as young criminals.  During the next decades, thus by 2000 it was still acknowledged, that the criminal potential of young people of the 1990s was overestimated, and the need for changes in the juvenile justice system were evident.

Overall, we can conclude to all the above said, that the issues and problems of the juvenile crimes are rather sophisticated and many-sided.

However, this is evident, that due to a number of serious reasons, young offenders can not be treated in the same way like adult criminals, which was also proved historically, with the help of gaining various psychological and statistical data as well as development of juvenile justice system in general.

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