Thursday, March 26, 2009

Law: Deterrence in the Juvenile Justice System

Although, there are common grounds to share, the juvenile justice system is different from regular criminal justice system. Its chief aim is reformation of the juvenile offenders and their rehabilitation, apart from the general safety of the citizens.

These juvenile courts were formed by law makers to prevent the juveniles from turning into delinquents or hardened criminals. Juvenile courts try offenders under 18 years of age who are too young to be tried in the criminal courts. These juveniles can be transferred to criminal or adult courts earlier also if the juvenile court so desires or feels fit.

The usual sentencing or the punishments awarded by the Juvenile courts happen to be much milder than seen in regular criminal courts. This adversely affects the much desired principle of deterrence in juvenile judicial system. "The deterrence rationale aims to dissuade juvenile offenders from repeating the offence and to keep other juveniles from committing the similar crime.

Relying on a causal link between criminal acts and subsequent punishment, the deterrence model presumes both a rational thought process behind violent crimes and a justice system that provides quick and predictable responses"(O'Connor). Due to feeble sentencing on part of juvenile justice system, the element of deterrence in the juvenile judicial system is almost missing. This raises an all important question: Is there such a thing as deterrence in the juvenile justice system or not?

The phenomenal rise in violent crimes committed by adolescent offenders has forced the law makers to rethink the strategy of tackling juvenile crime. "There are two basic questions that juvenile justice professionals, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement must confront. How do we identify, implement, and improve programs designed to prevent delinquency? When prevention has failed, how should communities, juvenile courts, probation, and corrections address the consequences? (Geraghty) Fed up with the failure of Juvenile justice system in containing juvenile crime, the citizens too want juveniles to be locked up and tried as any other criminals.

Already, the majority of states have shifted the focus from rehabilitation to punishment and deterrence. They have rewritten their laws enabling the juvenile courts to refer larger number of youths to the adult courts, to award mandatory prison sentences and incapacitation. In such a scenario, where does the juvenile justice system stand? If the juvenile courts can't deter the juvenile crime on their own, is there any real need for them at all?

An editorial in Wall Street Journal lambasted the juvenile justice system by pointing out the fact that leniency was the root cause of its failure, "Violent crime by juveniles soared in the '80s and '90s for one reason: Kids kept getting away with it" ("Wall"). The violence by offenders under 18 has reached such an alarming level that the U.S. Congress has taken cognizance of it "as a national emergency" (Zimring).

Talking about deterrence, it doesn't matter much whether you are talking about general deterrence or specific deterrence; what really matters is deterrence itself. While general deterrence is the term normally used with reference to the criminal courts, specific deterrence is attributed to the juvenile courts. "Nowhere does the revolving door of justice spin faster than in the juvenile court system. Nearly one-quarter of all juvenile arrests are dismissed immediately and only 10 percent result in detention of the offender (McNulty). This goes to prove that the juvenile justice system has failed to deter and restrain juvenile offenders from committing further crime.

It is abundantly clear that the present day policies and programs clearly fall short of containing juvenile crime or stopping delinquency. Youth violence can only be contained by putting in place solid deterrence and strong penal action. In the absence of real deterrence, juvenile justice system is surely a toothless tiger.

Works Cited

Geraghty, Thomas F. "Securing Our Children's Future: New Approaches to Juvenile Justice and

Youth Violence". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Volume: 94. Issue: 2.

Northwestern University, School of Law. 2004.

McNulty, Paul J. "Natural Born Killers? Preventing the Coming Explosion of Teenage Crime."

Policy Review.1995.

O'Connor, Jennifer M. and Lucinda Kinau Treat. "Getting Smart about Getting Tough: Juvenile

Justice and the Possibility of Progressive Reform". American Criminal Law Review. Volume: 33.

Issue: 4. Georgetown University Law Center. 1996.

Wall Street Journal. Editorial. 28. April 1997.

Zimring, Franklin E. American Youth Violence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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