The arrests of American youth, while showing a decline since 1996, are still a great concern and with 2,553.6 youth per 100,000 arrested per year in 2016 (OJJDP, 2017). That is more than 25% of our youth somehow in the juvenile justice system. The ways we care for our youth once they are in the system is extremely important not only ensuring fair and effective treatment but also as a means to reduce future juvenile and adult recidivism. Implementing programs to model children into contributing members of society, identity substance abuse disorders, counseling for mental and emotional issues are all necessary for rehabilitating offenders and reducing recidivism.
If we examine the rates of recidivism for juvenile offenders in Florida, New York, and Virginia, we will see that approximately 55% of juveniles released from custody were arrested again either in the juvenile or adult system within a year (Bostic, 2014). While statistics are promising and juvenile incarceration is lessening we still have work to do. How we approach the juvenile justice system is not the same as the adult justice system. Unlike the adult system, the juvenile justice system has an easy out, let the offender age out. This is not the answer, however. Ensuring fair treatment and a just system allows for greater focus to be applied to the offender.
The juvenile justice process varies state to state. Not only does the process vary by state so does the offense and sentences imposed for criminal violations. This, for the most part, is similar in the adult system, but imagine if your sentence varied simply by the city or county you reside in the state. Juvenile justice systems are often decentralized with inconsistent punishments and arrest practices. Take, for example, Michigan's juvenile justice system. A simple assault is committed in two different Michigan counties by two different 15-year-old males. One receives a sentence of six months in a juvenile detention center the other is placed into a non-custodial diversion program (Elam, 2017). Such a variance in punishment certainly is unfair. In this situation, Michigan courts are effectively labeling some offenders in the state as deviant and sparing others solely due to their geographical location and not as a result of their offense. In 1971, the Institute of Judicial Administration along with the American Bar Association attempted to reform unfair sentencing by introducing the Juvenile Justice Standards Project. This was designed to sentence offenders by the severity of their offense and not solely on a needs basis of the offender (Siegel, L. J., & Bartollas, C., 2018).
Due Process, a right afforded to everyone in America, well almost. Due process rights are at times infringed upon in juvenile court proceedings. Imagine a child arrested, fearful, and appearing before a judge sitting high above them. There are two outcomes for the child on their initial appearance go home with their guardian or be remanded to the custody of the local juvenile institution. Luckily seated next to them is a highly experienced attorney there to represent them. It seems the child is well represented and all is in order, however, many juveniles are placed in this position without counsel present at all. According to a report published by the National Juvenile Defender Center (2017) entitled Access Denied: A National Snapshot of States' Failure to Protect Children's Right to Counsel there are still states that do not guarantee representation by a lawyer at all judicial hearings, charge the offender for representation, allow the child independently without counsel to waive their rights to counsel and finally remove lawyers prior to the sentencing phase. It is hard to believe this still occurs. In the adult justice system, such negligence would guarantee mistrials as a result of due process violations. Perhaps these states should reflect on the landmark In Re Gault (1967) decision wherein Supreme Court Associate Justice Douglas is quoted as saying, "Neither man nor child can be allowed to stand condemned by methods which flout constitutional requirements of due process of law." Certainly this is not the norm, however, the broad juvenile justice system allows for states to infringe upon some rights with little oversight.
The Juvenile Justice system varies state-to-state and even further between cities or counties within a state. Decentralized justice systems do not work in the adult system and the same fate should be expected in the juvenile justice system. Fortunately, there has been much growth and it continues to improve as more services are offered to divert offenders. Juvenile offenders are not inherently criminals and we must also ensure they are afforded the same rights as adults while not forgetting many simply made a bad choice. Fair and effective judicial procedures are the basis of our criminal justice system whether it is juvenile or adult. These basic constitutional rights should be afforded to all.
Justice in Juvenile Justice. (2019, Oct 30).
Retrieved September 23, 2023 , from
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