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Juvenile Justice 4 Essay, Research Paper

“Gunmen open fire at Denver area high school.” “5 dead, 11 wounded in Arkansas school shooting.” “Pennsylvania students cope with shooting spree.” “1 killed, 25 wounded in Oregon school shooting.” Headlines such as these, while shocking, have become almost commonplace in America today. In a society in which movies, video games, and even music are saturated with violence, youth are turning on both each other and adults with increasing deadliness. Much of the public favors adult sentences for juveniles charged with serious violent crimes. The rate of serious crime among children and youth has begun to rise despite increasingly harsher sentences for juvenile offenders. At the present rate of incarceration, one out of every twenty children born in 1997 will spend time behind bars. For males the figure is one in eleven, and one in four African-American males will spend time in prison at some point in their lives. Clearly, the court system is unable to deal sufficiently with cases such as the aforementioned. How will this nation curb this alarming trend? While the real key is prevention, much can be done once a crime has been committed. Neither the adult nor the juvenile court system is properly equipped to deal with violent juveniles. Former US Attorney General William P. Barr says the increase in violent offenses “clearly show that we must enact wholesale reform of the juvenile-justice system so that, for the vast majority of juvenile offenders, their first brush with the law is their last.” Juveniles who commit violent crimes need a combination of rehabilitation and punishment. Rather than sending violent juveniles through the adult court and prison systems, the juvenile court system should be restructured to handle such individuals. The juvenile court system should be based on new, alternative courts already in existence with a special intake system to place offenders in the proper court and holding facilities whose primary purpose is rehabilitation over a longer period of time.

First, a new juvenile justice system based on a collection of specialty courts would allow individualized supervision and flexible, creative sentences. The original juvenile justice system was created to do just that. The system in place today has strayed from such ideals. Across the nation many specialty courts are emerging. Drug courts, gun courts, teen courts, community-based courts, and many others offer an excellent starting point for developing a new system of courts for young offenders. These courts would allow trials to occur in a more timely fashion. Sentencing options would focus on rehabilitation and giving back to the community. The results of such experimental courts are extremely encouraging. Community-based intervention, when carefully designed and monitored, is more effective at preventing recidivism than traditional detention and costs less according to several evaluators including the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Second, with such a wide range of courts available to handle juvenile offenders, an effective intake and referral process would be vital to the effectiveness of such a court system. It must somehow be decided which court has the most appropriate procedures and best sentencing options for each individual. Simply expanding on the intake procedures already in place in many areas would be a good starting point. After the initial intake review, juveniles should be moved to one of many courts based on each individual offender’s situation and prior record rather than the current legal definition that is based solely on age.

Third, new facilities better able to rehabilitate and capable of holding violent youth longer are vital to the success of any changes in court proceedings. The current facilities for holding convicted violent youth are insufficient. Many juvenile facilities have become solely a means of punishment rather than rehabilitation. “We can’t just leave the child at home where he or she is not getting any help. Locking up a kid and giving that kid some structure is a valid rehabilitation tool,” said Judge Smith in San Francisco. However, simply incarcerating youth longer and more often is clearly not working. “The way the system is set up now, they’re coming out worse than when they went in. They come out embittered, hardened,” said Lambert of the Youth Law Center. Community based youth facilities that allow rehabilitation to occur both while in custody and after release would allow youth to get much needed help without a prison term identical to that of an adult offender. All juveniles, violent or otherwise, are cognitively, emotionally, and socially different from adults. Juvenile facilities should be able to hold violent youth longer than before without requiring a transfer to the adult prison system.

In conclusion, it is ridiculous to expect a society of relatively non-violent adults to exist when each new generation is progressively becoming more violent. The wave of violence must stop with the current generation of youth. In order for this to occur, we must both prevent crime and properly deal with the consequences of crimes that have already occurred. This can best be done with a new juvenile justice system based on specialty courts already in existence which use proper intake procedures and a prison system that successfully punishes and rehabilitates youthful offenders.


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