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It is a common knowledge that juvenile offenders in the US were those violating the law and arrested by the authorities at age 17 and lower. Quite a number of researches by psychiatrists and sociologists have been conducted on the causes of juvenile delinquency. It was the 13 year study of McCord and McCord published in 1959 involving 650 eleven year old children that gave credibility and proof to the hypothesis that “Parental permissiveness and laxness is the cause (…) of such delinquent and aggressive behavior.
In fact, children coming from homes with permissive parents are thirteen times more likely to produce delinquent and aggressive ehavior than children coming from homes with overly strict and punitive parents”. (Hwang, et al, ca 2007, Abstract). According to the authors, this conclusion was supported with similar study conducted by Paulson involving California adolescents incarcerated for striking their parents in 1990.
The Nature of Juvenile Courts It was a common knowledge that a juvenile court was established by different states in the U. S. to handle cases of delinquent, dependent or neglected children under the age of 18. The common law violations of juveniles were delinquency, status offenses, abuse and neglect. The same kind of offense committed by youths in one state is subject to different rules in another state due to the fact that juvenile courts are primarily run by state and county courts and not by the federal government (law. rank. org, 2008). The website further reported that some states adjudicate youths guilty of unlawful acts with both a juvenile and adult sentence. The juvenile sentence is served first and then continues with the adult sentence at age 21 onwards. This extension of the sentence to age 21 is normally under the condition that the delinquent was not eformed or rehabilitated while under a juvenile sentence or his sentence exceeds the number of years till his 21st birthday.
Though each state treats juvenile delinquents differently, the juvenile courts are dedicated to protecting the child’s privacy and well-being and seeing to it that the delinquent is rehabilitated either under house arrest or under the guidance of foster parents and social workers. 2 Despite the efforts of the federal government to curb juvenile crime rates, during the 1980’s, there was an experienced increase in serious crimes committed by youths.
Victims of serious crimes were not satisfied seeing the youth not imprisoned and just confined in special rehabilitation house. As a result of the clamor for justice and the increase in violent crimes perpetrated by the youth, some states consider adjudicating the youth offenders under the adult court despite being contrary the juvenile justice law. There were claims that subjecting the youth offenders to adult court and punishment will discourage youth offenders from graduating to full pledge adult criminal.
This paper aims to elucidate the issues related to endorsement of uveniles to adult court and those against it and strike a compromise on punishing the youth offenders to bring justice to victims while maintaining the right of due process stipulated in the juvenile court. Juvenile Crime Trends in 2000’s and Policy Changes Young and Gainsborough (2000) claimed that the proportion of juvenile crimes to total arrests in 1998 was about the average for the past 25 years and that of property crime arrests declined throughout the most of the period.
The authors claimed further that the one crime category that exhibited significant increase from the overall trend during the 25 year period was urder perpetrated by youth offenders as shown in the following graph: Criminologists Alfred Blumstein and Richard Rosenfeld (cited in Young and Gainsborough, 2000) reported from their analysis that the sudden increase in gun killings were related to the 3 development of the crack markets in metropolitan cities where fierce turf wars were waged with juveniles recruited by market organizers.
As more guns came into the streets, juveniles armed themselves with guns for protection and self-defense resulting to spiraling of death cases. The sharp decline of murder cases in recent years according to the criminologists was due to market tabilization of crack and police authorities’ efforts to keep guns off the hands of juveniles. Related to this, according to Myers (2005) in his book Boys Among Men, there has been serious debates in the last 40 years related to juvenile courts’ philosophy, structure and procedure.
The author added that “A variety of critical attacks have focused on such issues as due process violation, ineffective treatments and rehabilitation services, abuse of the juvenile courts’ power, lenient treatment of adolescent offenders and general lack of direction in dealing with adolescent crimes”. (p 71). On incisive analysis, these issues may have contributed heavily to mounting serious juvenile crimes.
Myers (2005) claimed that the criticisms combined with the rapid increase of juvenile crimes in 1980 to mid-1990s and heavy media attention in sensationalizing juvenile crimes contributed to the erosion of traditional philosophy and authority of the juvenile courts. The author added that the central issue is the transfer of juveniles to criminal court which was equivalent to a move of criminalizing delinquent behavior.
In relation to this, Young and Gainsborough (2000) commented that the legislative esponse to increased wave of serious crime focused on sending more and younger children to adult criminal court with the intention of discouraging the juveniles from committing murder crimes. The authors reported that since 1992, almost all states has made legislation to make it easier to try juveniles in adult court. The federal government through Congress initiative in 1998 provided additional grants to states with legal policies related to prosecution of those 14 and above as adults.
It was an accepted practice since the inception of juvenile justice system hat serious and chronic crimes done by juveniles can be transferred to adult criminal court through a process of judicial waiver following a hearing in front of a judge in juvenile court. In reaction to mounting serious juvenile offenses, the judicial waiver was broadened to allow 4 juvenile court judges to transfer younger juveniles and those with less serious offenses to adult court by means of mandatory waiver.
The authors further added that prosecutorial discretion was broadened to allow prosecutors more authority in their hands to file juvenile cases to either juvenile or criminal court as they choose. The statutory exclusion was also expanded to exclude certain juvenile offender categories from juvenile court jurisdiction based both on age and nature of offense. The legal provision of “Once an adult, always an adult” was enacted by almost all states which in effect automatically place the juvenile in adult court for the trial of subsequent lesser offenses once the offender was tried previously in criminal court.
The policy changes resulted to abnormally high rate of juvenile children being tried as adults. The authors revealed that per data of Amnesty International in 1998, as many as 200,000 outh under 18 years of age were prosecuted in criminal courts. In 13 states which set the upper age limit of juvenile court jurisdiction at 15 rather than 18, a total of 180,000 juveniles were adjudicated in adult court. Although the central objective of the laws facilitating juvenile offenses prosecution in adult court was to discouraged homicide and violent crimes, the impact was much wider.
The authors reported that in 1996, more than half of the cases waived to criminal court were non-violent drug and property offenses; 43% were person offenses, 37% were property offenses, 14% were drug related and 6% were public order disturbance. Moreover, racial disparities were very evident; 67% of juvenile adjudications were black and 77% of juveniles sent to prison were minorities (60% black, 15% Hispanics and 1% American Indians and Asians).
Despite using drugs at a much lower propensity than whites (15. 7% of blacks, 16. 7% of Hispanics , 19. 6% of whites aged 12 to 17), 75% of juveniles charged with drug offenses in adult court were black and 95% of juveniles sentenced to adult prison were minorities. It was very evident that discrimination toward minorities which should not be the case actually happened as a result of juvenile transfer to adult courts.