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The Juvenile Justice System – Is It Working Essay, Research Paper

The American juvenile justice system was designed over 100 years ago to reform kids found guilty of minor crimes, minor crimes such as petty theft and truancy. Today, the system is becoming overwhelmed by crimes of violence. Stealing and skipping school have been replaced by rape, robbery, and murder. The juvenile justice system was never meant to deal with these problems.

Juvenile delinquency describes the antisocial behavior of many different types of youth who are in trouble, or who are on the brink of trouble with the law. In general terms juvenile delinquency means different things to different people. By law, a juvenile delinquent is a minor under seventeen who commits a criminal act determined by law and found guilty in court. Juvenile courts, see a juvenile delinquent as a youth who goes against a state or local law.

Children are not just born delinquents, they are products of circumstances and chance, and culture and environment. A youth named a delinquent by circumstance and chance is just a youth who has been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Usually, the juvenile who commits a delinquent act by chance is a part of a gang that takes part in unlawful behavior temporarily. Most juveniles become delinquents because of the culture and environment that surrounds them. Juveniles who are in an area of violence and crime learn to go against authority and engage in crime because it is the acceptable thing to do.

The juvenile justice system originated about 1819, and on July 1, 1899 the first juvenile court in the United States was set up in Cook County, Illinois. It represented a dramatic change in the way the criminal justice system and all of the American society viewed criminally involved youth. The new court was founded on the principle of parens patriae , the idea that children should not be treated as criminals, but as wards of the state.

Parents patrae tried to show that children were not fully responsible for their conduct and were able to be rehabilitated. Parens patraie tried to explain the view that children were fully responsible for their conduct and were able to be rehabilitated. Parens patraie remains the base of the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts and across the country. Then, like now, juvenile court was designed more to protect the child that to punish bad behavior.

Most people feel that until recently, the juvenile justice system served our country and our children pretty well. Beginning in the 1970 s, the nature of juvenile crime became different. Juvenile crime grew more common and more violent, and the system was not prepared.

The biggest problem facing law enforcement today may be the very structure of the juvenile justice system. A system that neither punishes nor rehabilitates is useless. Examples of juvenile justice system failures are found everywhere throughout the United States.

In Rhode Island, Craig Price, age fifteen, deliberately killed a mother and her two young daughters. Yet, this wasn t his first offense, or murder. Two years earlier he had murdered another woman. He also had a long record of assaults, burglaries, and other crimes.

In Chicago, two of the neighborhood s toughest bullies lured a five year old boy and his eight year old brother up to an empty fourteenth floor apartment. While up there one of the bullies decided to dangle the helpless five year old out the window by his feet. As the eight year old tried to help his younger brother, the bully dropped him, and he plunged fourteen floors to his death. The bullies, who were both ten years old, are not even going to juvenile prison. Journalist Richard Lacayo calls these kids predator juveniles (Lacayo 60), because they steal the life of others.

Closer to home, the system is just as corrupt. A sixteen year old boy from Somerville has been charged with killing his next door neighbor, his best friends’ mother. According to police the boy was infatuated about her, and before killing her, he beat her and then stabbed her seventy-two times.

Violent juvenile crime is increasing at twice the rate of violent crimes made by adults. By the year 2,005, the number of teenagers between ages’ fourteen and seventeen will grow by twenty-three percent. How can this epidemic of violence among our young people be controlled? First and foremost is education, in elementary school, in middle school, in high school, and most important, education at home. Learning the difference between right and wrong begins at birth. Early childhood is the most crucial time for this learning to take place. Parents must be held responsible for teaching their children what is right and what is wrong. If parents refuse to except their roles as teachers, then the government will be forced to step in. Education is most important because its goal is prevention rather than rehabilitation.

First time offenders, in both adult and juvenile systems are very rarely punished, unless they are charged with a very serious crime. Children must learn that they are accountable for their actions. We are wrong when we do not teach them that their actions do have significant consequences. A young child who runs across a busy city street will most certainly face immediate punishment at the hands of his mother. The same should go for the juvenile offender the first time he breaks the law. After all, how will the offender learn that he or she will be accountable for their actions.

With almost everyone agreeing that the juvenile justice system is a failure, some alternative punishments should be considered. In East Boston District Court, Judge Domenic Russo sets a strict curfew on all juvenile first time offenders. The curfew is determined by the age of the juvenile. It is one-half of their age, so a sixteen year old, such as myself would have to be in at home at eight in the evening.

Some judges and elected officials are now sending juvenile offenders too military like boot camps. The boot camps are very similar to Marine Corps basic training, where there is strict discipline. Boot camp can last for several months, at the end of which the juvenile either succeeds and graduates or fails and returns to the system.

Another new form of punishment is not new at all. Corporal punishment has been used for thousands of years. Presently it is illegal in the United States. However, the recent event in Singapore, where a teenager from the United States was caught spray-painting a car and was sentenced to be caned (whipped) changed the way many viewed the laws of the United States.

Had he been caught spray-painting cars in his hometown of Dayton, his crime would have been regarded as commonplace and his neighbors opinion would not have mattered (Rush 3).

Where Singapore is relatively crime free, in the United States there is an epidemic of crime. To some people, corporal punishment should be brought back.

What about the most vicious crime that society has to deal with, murder? Remember Craig Price?

If Craig Price had been two and a half weeks older, and if he had murdered the Heaton Family in Oklahoma — or in one of the several other states which authorize the imposition of Capital punishment of sixteen-year-olds– he almost certainly would have been sentenced to death for his crimes (Dershowitz 2).

Should all juveniles convicted of murder be put to death? Probably not, but, certainly those teenagers guilty of the most violent and vicious killings should at least be tried as adults and sent to prison.

Everyone agrees that the juvenile justice system needs to be improved. The question is how can this be accomplished. Is the present system in such bad shape that we should abandon it all together, or should we keep it and simply make small changes to make a better system? I believe that the whole system in the United States should be changed completely. We need new ideas in order to derive new solutions. However, everyone must become involved: kids, parents, politicians, and judges. All must do their part if we are to save our future generations.

Work Cited

Lacayo Richard. SUPERPREDATORS ARRIVE. New York: Newsweek, 1996. 57.

Bernard, Thomas. The Cycle of Juvenile Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 1- 10, 56.

Dershowitz, Alan. The Abuse Excuse. New York:Time Warner Electronic Publishing, 1995. 1- 2

Eldefonso, Edward. Youth Problems and Law Enforcement. New Jesey: Prentice-Hall, INC., 1972. 2-8, 45-50.

Hyde, Margaret. Juvenile Justice and Injustice. New York: Franklin Watts, 1977. 1-6, 22-30.

Reilly, Tom. Youth crime has changed- and so must the juvenile justice system. Boston: Boston Globe, 1996. 13

Rush, Richard. WHEN KIDS GO BAD. New York: Time Magazine, 1994. 26, 60.


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