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Juvenile justice system has great legacy since it has served the society across the century despite its inherent flaws and weaknesses. Abolitionists and critics of juvenile justice system have capitalized on its inherent flaws and weakness to advocate for its abolition.
The defenders of the system on the other hand appreciate the marked role of juvenile justice system in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents and are advocating for the conservation of the system and reforming critical structures that will enable it to carry out its functions effectively.
The raging debate over abolition of juvenile justice system revolves around the efficiency of the system. If a system has flaws and weaknesses, there might be two options, to abolish or reform it.
In this case, the best way to improve efficiency in the juvenile justice system is by reformation. Abolition and integration of juvenile justice system into criminal justice system will not solve the inherent flaws in the two systems.
The integrated system will have deeper complicated flaws due to combination of systemic flaws that will degenerate into another quest for abolition, if that is the trend. In conclusion, the juvenile justice system needs reforms and not abolition.
Juvenile court system is a parallel criminal system provided for juvenile delinquents. Criminal justice system realized that juvenile offenders have special needs as compared to adult criminals in that they are young, and have great future to pursue; therefore, the main objective of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate them.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) asserts that, the objective of the juvenile justice system is to “encourage a process of behavioral change by helping the child or young person to feel accountable for his or her actions and understand their impact on others, and foster integration rather than alienation (2010, p. 4).
The juvenile justice system follows the same philosophy as in criminal justice system but it is more inclined to rehabilitating than punishing juvenile offenders.
Due to different approaches to justice, many critics have perceived juvenile justice system as a lenient approach of convicting juvenile criminals and are advocating for its abolition. This research paper explores the reasons why there should be no abolition of the juvenile justice system.
Increased Juvenile Offenders
Critics of the juvenile justice system argue that the system has become ineffective in its objective and mission of protecting the rights of the juvenile offenders and rehabilitating them. The critics base their evidence in the rapid increase of juvenile offenders.
According to Dickens, “there is a general perception, sometimes correct and sometimes unjustified, that juvenile offending rates are increasing constantly and significantly, and that ever more serious and violent crimes are being committed by ever-younger children” (2007, p. 6). Regrettably, critics attribute the rapid increase of juvenile offenders to the weakness of the juvenile justice system.
This perception has greatly backed the critics’ bid in their abolition of juvenile justice system campaign citing that the system has failed in its mandate of punishing and rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. This line of argument is not valid since it does not consider other factors such as social dynamics and economic challenges in contemporary society.
It is not plausible to attribute a complex issue of increased incidences of juvenile delinquency to a single system as juvenile justice for there are many factors that need consideration.
The exponential rate of juvenile offenders in the contemporary society emanates from social and economic intricacies. According to UNICEF views, “…sudden and often extreme economic precariousness … the population quickly found itself when drastic measures were introduced to prepare for the market economy, and to the anomie and rejection of authority that often characterized the initial period of post-Communism” (6).
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The rapid increase of juvenile offenders is due to changes in economic system. Transition from communism into capitalism tremendously increased the number of juvenile offenders because the change in economic system affected labor markets which affected families and by extension social and economic aspects of youth.
Therefore, instead of putting the whole blame on juvenile justice system, it is prudent to focus on probable factors that have led to the rapid increase in juvenile delinquencies. The function of the juvenile justice system is to correct juvenile delinquents through appropriate programs and not to prevent occurrence of crimes.
Even if there was an effective criminal justice system but social and economic aspects of the society were very poor, criminal activities will obviously increase. Therefore, abolition of juvenile justice system based on increased juvenile offenders is farfetched.
Juvenile Delinquency is a Disorder
Juvenile delinquency is an adolescent disorder that affects children between the ages of about 7 and 17 years. Juveniles at this age normally experience adolescent disorder that affects their rational decision making abilities. The rational ability of a juvenile and an adult are not equal hence juveniles need special consideration in punishment and rehabilitation programs.
Scott and Steinberg argue that juveniles who constantly commit crimes, “in contrast to the vast majority of juvenile offenders, their involvement in crime does not only appear to be the product of adolescent immaturity; it has additional roots in the neurological, psychological, familial, and environmental deficits” (2008, p. 225). Based on this argument, juvenile delinquency results from a complex youth disorder that requires rehabilitation rather than punishing them.
Contemporary abolitionists want to merge criminal justice system and juvenile justice system without considering the unique needs of the juvenile offenders. It is imperative to realize and consider the unique psychological conditions of juvenile offenders by assigning them separate justice system that will consider their needs; therefore, juvenile justice system needs no abolition.
Abolition and Integration
Leading abolitionist Barry Feld is advocating for an integrated justice system after he observed that the juvenile justice system failed terribly in its mission and vision of enforcing law. The mission and vision of the juvenile justice system is to provide a lenient justice environment, and separate juvenile offenders from adult criminals to rehabilitate them effectively.
Although Barry Feld agrees with this important goal, he argues that, “…the juvenile justice system was doomed to failure even from the beginning; because it was thrown into the role of providing child welfare at the same time it was instrument of law enforcement” (Sigel & Welsh, 2008, p. 522).
The critics and abolitionists of the juvenile justice system do not care about the welfare of the children because they are focusing more on legal punishment but they are forgetting the fact that juvenile delinquents still have great future to pursue unlike adult criminals. To improve the future wellbeing of the juvenile offenders, there should be no abolition of the juvenile justice system since it cares about children welfare through its rehabilitation program.
Abolitionists further argue that juvenile justice system has limited access to privileges of the criminal justice system. According to Scotts and Steinberg, “modern abolitionists argue that juveniles continue to receive inadequate representation and procedural protection, despite Gault extending to the juveniles many of the procedural protections enjoyed by adults in criminal trials, including right to an attorney” (2008, p. 226).
The primary purpose of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation but the abolitionists are advocating for substitution of this purpose with punishment. The abolitionists view justice from punishment perspective while the defenders of the juvenile justice system view it from welfare perspective.
Incorporation of juvenile justice system into criminal justice system will not help in reducing the incidences of juvenile delinquency but will worsen moral states of the juvenile offenders because there are no effective and specific rehabilitation programs for juvenile delinquents in criminal system.
Rehabilitation of the juvenile offenders is key objective and benefit of juvenile justice system and hence, its abolition will degenerate into poor rehabilitation.
Critics’ and Abolitionists’ Assumptions
The critics and abolitionists of the juvenile justice system base their arguments on assumptions that are impractical. Barry Feld and other abolitionists assume that it is quite impossible to reform the juvenile justice system due to conflicting roles of child welfare and punishment. He is proposing abolition and integration as the only means of achieving streamlined justice system for all.
He argues that, “the money spent on serving the court and its large staff would be better spent on the child welfare, which would target a larger audience and prevent children’s antisocial acts before they occur in lieu of juvenile court” (Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p. 523). From this argument, abolitionists do not want anything to do with the welfare of the children in the justice system.
They also perceive the juvenile justice system as ineffective in preventing further crimes. It is fair to judge the performance of the juvenile justice system on the number of juvenile delinquents who have undergo successful rehabilitation rather than judging them on crimes they have not prevented.
Barry Feld and other critics further assume that integration of the juvenile justice system will enable juvenile offenders receive complete procedural protection in the criminal justice system, which is practically impossible.
“It is naïve to assume the criminal courts can provide the same or greater substantive and procedural protection as the juvenile court … and may be impossible for juvenile offenders to obtain adequate legal defense in the adult system” (Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p. 522).
In the criminal justice system, many bureaucracies are under discretion of the judges and this will not augur well with the juveniles from minority community who are subject to racism, ethnicity and discrimination. Since the judges in the criminal have prerogatives to take into consideration the age factor and administer sentence, there is likelihood that there will be some bias.
It is preferably better to reform the juvenile justice system than abolish it because it provides unique procedural protection and rehabilitation to the juvenile offenders unlike the criminal justice system.
The basic important feature of the juvenile justice system is that it provides correctional specialization by separating adults and children.
“This basic and long-standing principle has two purposes: to protect children from exploitation, abuse and negative influences by the adults; and to ensure that the detention of children is effectively done in facilities that cater to their special needs” (UNICEF, 2010, p. 13).
Abolition and integration of juvenile justice system into the criminal justice system means that there will be no differential treatment of juveniles and adults.
Juvenile offenders not only receive protection from the influences of adults but they also get protection against unfair trial due to their ages. The juvenile justice system provides both protections; hence, its abolition will severely affect fair trial and rehabilitation as process of justice.
Juvenile offenders are very delicate and sensitive to the influences of adults, and harsh sentences will impair positive behavior change. Therefore, leniency and welfare objectives of the juvenile justice system creates conducive environment for effective rehabilitation.
The juvenile justice system has benefitted the juvenile offenders and the society for the last 100 years, thus it may seem unwise to abolish it rather than reforming it to keep abreast with dynamics of the justice systems.
“Juvenile courts allowed society to intervene early in the lives of troubled youth and they prevented a variety of horrors that occurred whenever young defendants were thrown in with adult criminals” (Butts, 2010, p. 25).
The system has enabled many youths to change their behaviour and pursue their dreams making them great people in the society. The flaws in the juvenile justice system can be mitigated in the long term provided the appropriate measures are put in place.
There are no flawless systems; however, during the course of time the hitherto flawed systems achieve perfection through reforms and not by abolition. Therefore, reformation of the juvenile justice system should strike a balance between public safety and the juveniles’ rights in building a better society for the benefit of everybody.
The critics and abolitionists of specialised justice systems like the juvenile justice system should channel their energies towards reforming rather than abolishing important institutions as the juvenile justice system. The more specialised systems of justice, the better the justice mechanisms in the society.
The juvenile justice system is a system that has stood the test of time amidst great challenges over a century. It is unreasonable to abolish the system that has served the society for a period of 100 years due to its inherent flaws.
Abolishing the system means discrediting its cumulative marked roles and substituting it with the criminal justice system that will not serve unique needs of the juvenile offenders is tantamount to ineptness.
Examining the legacy the juvenile justice system has build for a long period; the best way to reward the system is by carrying out objective reforms geared towards enhancing its legal structures rather than abolishing it.
Since every system has inherent flaws, time and experiences shape them for it is not reasonable to abolish any system in order to avoid flaws. In the light of these revelations, it suffices to say that, juvenile justice system needs reforms and not abolition.
Butts, J. (2010). Can we do without Juvenile Justice? American Bar Association, 4(2), 22-45.
Dickens, C. (2007). A perspective on the Juvenile Justice System. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 3(1), 4-18.
Scott, E., & Steinberg, L. (2008). Rethinking Juvenile Justice. New York: Harvard University Press
Sigel, L., & Welsh, B. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. New York: Cengage Learning.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, (2010). Juvenile Justice. The Innocenti Digest, 1-24.