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Over the last decade, child abuse and neglect has been on the increase. This fact comes with its challenges and right now juvenile justice system is facing challenges and some unique issues that if not well addressed would plunge this system into crisis in future. It is unfortunate that, this system has not undergone restructuring to accommodate changing trends in society.
Laws have not been reviewed to address the ever-changing societal trends in justice matters. Ignoring the facts does not change them, and whether the juvenile justice system acknowledges it or not; there are numerous challenges and unique issues facing the juvenile justice system, in the 21st century regarding the increasing numbers of child abuse and neglect.
Increasing Child Abuse and Neglect
As aforementioned, child abuse and neglect has been on the increase over the last decade. According to Nation Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse (NCPCA) (2007), “Child abuse reports have maintained a steady growth for the past ten years, with the total number of reports nationwide increasing by 45% since 1997” (p. 5).
This depicts how grave the issue of child abuse and neglect is. According to National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research (2000), the year 1999 was the climax with 3,244,000 reports of child abuse and neglect reaching the Child Protective Service (CPS). Neglect is the prominent form of child maltreatment causing over 43% of child fatalities in a year. These statistics are alarming and they pose great challenge to juvenile justice system.
In 2001, the Third National Incidence Study (NIS-3) compiled results on child abuse in 25 states showing that, “62% involved neglect, 25% physical abuse, 7% sexual abuse, 3% emotional maltreatment and 4% other. For substantiated cases, 31 states gave the following breakdowns: 60% neglect, 23% physical, 9% sexual, 4% emotional maltreatment and 5% other” (Reid, 2001, p. 6).
These figures, compared to say figures of twenty years ago are very different. Most recent results are more revealing. According to Lung and Daro (2009), “information from 34 states representing 67.3% of the U.S. population under the age of 18, an estimated 1,215 child maltreatment deaths were confirmed by child protective service (CPS) agencies in 2008” (12). Interestingly, these statistics show deaths only.
Logically, not all the abused and neglected children die; therefore, the numbers of the abuse and neglect cases has to be higher than the deaths. Moreover, these statistics represent only the reported cases, meaning that the actual number of cases is higher than the documented ones. Therefore, extrapolating these statistics to cover all cases of abuse and neglect and including the unreported cases, child abuse, and neglect has up surged in the recent past. What does this mean to the juvenile justice system?
Challenges in Juvenile Justice System
The fact that more children are being abused and neglected means that more children will end up in criminal practices. According to National Child Abuse (2010), “Children who experience child abuse & neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.”
This is the nightmare facing the juvenile justice system. Gelles (2006), notes that, increase in child abuse and neglect means increase in criminal practices amongst these children (38). The greatest question remains; is the juvenile justice system prepared to address the increasing number of juvenile crimes cases? As aforementioned, there are numerous challenges facing this system some of which are unique as exposited next.
To understand the challenges facing the juvenile justice system in the 21st Century, it is good to know the structures of this system. This system is not meant to handle violent crimes. Moreover, young people below the age of 16 are not supposed to be arraigned in adult courts. Now, this is the stalemate; young people are becoming violent criminals, they are not supposed to be arraigned in adults courts and on the other side, the juvenile justice system does not handle violent crimes.
This stalemate does not annul the fact that more young people are becoming violent criminals due to child neglect and abuse. This challenge is unique in its own. The fact is, the justice juvenile system is overwhelmed, and not unless laws are reviewed to accommodate these challenges, the future of this system is doomed to failure.
There are unique issues facing the system juvenile system. According to Colon Willoughby, a Wake County District Attorney, “because the system was meant for petty crimes – such as shoplifting, – it is shrouded in secrecy to protect juvenile offenders” (Lamb, 2009, p. 6). This is another unique issue.
This system requires that juvenile case files be kept private to enable these youngsters to start afresh in life as adults. Unfortunately, the trends have changed. These juveniles are no longer interested in petty crimes like shoplifting; no, they are involved in capital crimes; and what is the juvenile justice system doing about it, nothing. The future of this system is bleak; no ray of hope is coming through; not even the administration can do much because law has to be followed.
To cap the challenges facing the juvenile system, Colon Willoughby says, “I think this is a dirty little secret in our court system. We have violent juveniles out there; we are not able to deal with them, and we do not even know who they are” (Lamb, 2009, p. 6). This is true; there are many violent juvenile ‘criminals’ terrorizing innocent people out there; unfortunately, current laws seem to protect them. As aforementioned, trends have changed and contemporary society is grappling with issues that seemed alien in early 19th century.
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Unfortunately, structures have not changed with changing times and just like the dinosaurs, the juvenile justice system may soon be distinct if it cannot cope with change. The greatest future challenge facing this system is that of structural organization. Willoughby posits that, “Prosecutors and judges in the adult court system have access to juveniles’ felony records, but prosecutors need a court order to review them.
Moreover, it can be time consuming pulling those files because there is centralized statewide system to manage them…it is at the discretion of the presiding judge whether to allow them in open court” (Lamb, 2009, p. 6). This statement highlights two key issues viz. organizational and structural challenges.
The fact that the discretion on whether to arraign a juvenile in open court lies in hands of the presiding judges indicates incompetence of juvenile justice system. Additionally, Willoughby poses the issue of time consumption in retrieving criminal records. These two areas pose the greatest future challenges to juvenile justice system given the upsurge in juvenile crime catalyzed by child abuse and neglect.
The juvenile justice system is facing numerous challenges coupled with some unique issues that seem insurmountable if drastic measures are not taken in the wake of increasing juvenile crimes emanating from up surging child abuse and neglect. Over the last ten year, child abuse and neglect has been on the rise and this translates into increase in juvenile crime. Moreover, trends in juvenile crimes are changing by the day and more juveniles are engaging in capital crimes.
Unfortunately, the structure and organization of the juvenile justice system does not offer dynamic options of dealing with these changing trends. The justice juvenile system was meant to address petty crimes, which were prevalent amongst youth in those times. Under the current law, a juvenile can only be arraigned in open court after approval by a presiding judge. However, given the increasing number of juvenile crimes, the future of this system is bleak.
Gelles, R. (2006). Child Maltreatment and Foster Care. Gender Issues, 23(4): 36-47
Lamb, A. (2009). Juvenile Justice System Faces Challenges. WRAL, A3.
Lung, C., & Daro, D. (2009) Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The Results of the 2005 Annual Fifty State Survey. National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, 6(1): 12-18.
National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research. (2000). Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities. The Results of the 1999 Annual Fifty State Survey.
National Child Abuse. (2010). Child Abuse in America. Web.
Nation Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. (2007). 2006 Annual Fifty State Survey.
Reid, T. (2001). News NIS-3 Data. APSAC Advisor, 9 (3): 6-9.