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Juvenile Crime in the USA Analysis

Rise in Juvenile crime and outcry to prosecute children as adults.

Americans are misinformed about youth violence, and, as the second quote suggests, the media play a large role in fueling citizens’ fears of youth. Perhaps as a result of this fear, more young people convicted of crimes go to jail with adults or serve adult sentences than ever before. Part of the problem is access to firearms, but a larger part is the way our society views its youth and withholds proactive guidance and socialization.

In the late 1980s, policymakers predicted that society should prepare for the onslaught of the teenage “super predator,” who in growing numbers would commit serious violent crimes (e.g., assault, rape, and murder) without remorse. These predictions were based on two salient factors. First, the 1990s was about to experience one of the largest adolescent populations ever seen. Also, gun violence was increasing in the late 1980s, leading experts to predict that violent crimes would increase substantially with a growing youth population. A second prominent factor in the belief that society should hunker down and prepare for an onslaught of adolescent offenders was the media’s imbalanced and distorted reporting of youth crime. Violent crime declined substantially throughout the 1990s, but media coverage of it increased substantially. Because of this misleading media attention, it was widely held that teens would become increasingly unmanageable. Ironically, an epidemic of white-collar crime during this same period went largely unrecognized. The 1980s prediction of super predator teens damaged the reputations of teens in the 1990s and beyond. More alert now to the possibility of youth violence, we have, as a culture, developed exaggerated notions of adolescent offenders.

Reports on teen crimes fail to note that juvenile violent crime has been decreasing over the past decade, not increasing, and the harsher punishments that were put into place to offset a predicted surge in crime that never materialized have had mostly negative consequences. More youth are sent to adult prisons, where many are abused and mistreated. When juveniles are detained as adults, they are much more likely to become repeat offenders, and they are also more likely to become victims themselves.

Prosecution of juvenile criminals as adults

Judicial waiver represents the most prevalent transfer policy in virtually all jurisdictions. A juvenile court judge can waive juvenile court jurisdiction on a discretionary basis after conducting a hearing to determine whether a youth is “amenable to treatment” or poses a threat to public safety. Judicial case-by-case clinical assessment of a youth’s potential for rehabilitation and dangerousness reflects the individualized sentencing discretion characteristic of traditional juvenile courts.

Legislative waiver or offence exclusion constitutes another common transfer mechanism, one that frequently supplements judicial waiver provisions. This strategy emphasizes the seriousness of the offence and reflects the retributive values of the criminal law. Because legislatures create juvenile courts, they possess considerable latitude to define the court’s jurisdiction and to exclude youths from the juvenile court based on their age and the seriousness of their offences, for example, youths sixteen or older and charged with murder. Indeed, legislative line drawing that sets the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction at fifteen or sixteen, below the general eighteen-year-old-age of majority, results in the adult criminal prosecution of the largest numbers of chronological juveniles.

Prosecutorial waiver, or giving both juvenile and criminal courts concurrent jurisdiction over some crimes, represents a third method several states use to remove some young offenders from the juvenile justice system. With the prosecutorial waiver, both juvenile and criminal courts share concurrent jurisdiction over certain ages and offences, typically older youths and serious crimes, and a prosecutor’s decision to charge youth as a juvenile or adult determines the judicial forum. To the extent that a prosecutor’s decision to charge the case in criminal courts divests the juvenile court of jurisdiction, prosecutorial waiver constitutes a form of offence-based decision making like legislative offence exclusion.

Each method to decide whether to prosecute youth as a criminal or a delinquent has supporters and critics. Proponents of judicial waiver emphasize its consistency with juvenile courts’ rehabilitative sentencing philosophy and contend that individualized judgments provide an appropriate balance of flexibility and severity. Critics object that juvenile court judges lack valid or reliable clinical tools with which to assess a youth’s amenability to treatment or to predict dangerousness and argue that judges’ exercise of standardless discretion results in abuses and inequalities.

Juvenile Crimes and Mental level

Neurotransmitters are chemicals stored in brain cells that carry information between these cells. There are many neurotransmitters, but serotonin has been most replicable related to offending. Hormones, biochemical substances that carry information, are secreted into the bloodstream by endocrine organs located throughout the body. The hormone that has been studied most in relation to offending is testosterone, which is produced by the testes. Testosterone levels are typically measured in blood or saliva samples. Studies of a wide variety of animal species show that when the animals are reproductively active, testosterone facilitates aggression between males, leading to the hypothesis that high testosterone levels in boys from puberty onward might be related to violence.

Incarcerating juveniles creates permanent psychological damages

Many youths whom juvenile courts previously could have handled as status offenders, especially those who are middle-class and female, increasingly enter the private mental health or chemical dependency treatment systems via diversion, court referral, or voluntary parental commitment. Historically, the child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health systems dealt with relatively interchangeable youth populations and shifted them from one system to another depending on social attitudes, available funds, and imprecise legal definitions. The transfer of some noncriminal juveniles from publicly funded facilities to private mental health and chemical dependency facilities may constitute the institutional successor to the juvenile justice system for the care and control of problematic youths. Whether parents or the state confines youths for their “best interests,” for “waywardness” and “disobedience,” for “adjustment reactions” symptomatic of adolescence, or for “chemical dependency,” these trends revive the imagery of diagnosis and treatment on a discretionary basis without regard to formal procedures.

The recent “get tough” changes in juvenile court sentencing laws exacerbate institutional overcrowding. Such laws confine serious and chronic offenders to a mandatory minimum or longer terms in overcrowded facilities that suffer from limited physical mobility and inadequate program resources and staff and foster intense interaction among the most problematic youths in the system. These juvenile correctional “warehouses” can exhibit most of the negative features of adult prisons. Although a few states have experimented successfully with small, community-based juvenile treatment facilities, the correctional pendulum is currently swinging toward incarcerating more delinquents for longer periods in training schools and youth prisons.

The juvenile court “treatment model” assumes that social or psychological factors cause delinquent behaviour, that judges should individualize sentences based on treatment needs, that release should be based on when the juvenile improves, and that successful treatment will reduce recidivism. Unfortunately, evaluations of juvenile rehabilitation programs provide scant support that confinement in institutions effectively treats youths rather than punishes them or reduces their recidivism rates.

Conclusion

For more than three decades since Gault, juvenile courts have deflected, co-opted, ignored, or accommodated constitutional and legislative reforms with minimal institutional change. States have transformed the juvenile court from its original model as a social service agency into a deficient criminal court that provides young people with neither positive treatment nor criminal justice. It effectively punishes young offenders but uses procedures under which no adult would consent to be tried. Moreover, public and political concerns about youth crime, drugs, gangs, and violence support policies to repress rather than rehabilitate young offenders. Fiscal constraints, budget deficits, and competition from other interest groups suggest a little basis for optimism that states soon will expand treatment services for delinquents.

The original juvenile court attempted to combine social welfare and social control in one institution. The Progressives envisioned a social service agency in a judicial setting and attempted to fuse the juvenile court’s welfare mission with the power of state coercion. The juvenile court’s inability to achieve its welfare mission does not result simply from inadequate implementation. Rather, the juvenile court’s primary flaw lies in the idea that we can successfully combine social welfare and penal social control in one agency. Providing for child welfare is a societal responsibility rather than a judicial one. Juvenile courts lack control over the resources necessary to meet child welfare needs. Indeed, they lack resources exactly because of the gender, class, and racial characteristics of their clients. Moreover, many young people who desperately need social services do not commit crimes, and many youths who commit crimes do not require or will not respond to social services. Because states do not provide adequate social services to meet the needs of all young people, the juvenile court’s welfare ideology legitimates the exercise of judicial coercion of some.

Works Cited

Allen J. Beck and Jennifer C. Karberg, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2000 (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 2001).

James A. Morone, Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). 463.

Kriste Lindenmeyer, “A Right to Childhood. The U.S. Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912-1946 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 150.

Francis Alien, The Decline of the Rehabilitative Ideal: Penal Policy and Social Purpose (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).

Theodore N. Ferdinand, “History Overtakes the Juvenile Justice System,” Crime and Delinquency 37 (1991): 204-24; Platt, Child Savers.

Bradford W Wright, Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 88, 155.

Cohen, “The Delinquents,” 269; Shearon A. Lowery and Melvin L. DeFleur, Milestones in Mass Communication Research: Media Effects, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 1995), 239.

Nancy E. Marion, A History of Federal Crime Control Initiatives, 1960-1993 (Westport: Praeger, 1994) 163.