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Juvenile delinquency is a critical matter of concern due to the necessity of creating and operating a separate system for juvenile justice, addressing age differences of criminals. In the United States of America, there is a distinct line between adult and juvenile justice systems. However, regardless of the separation, there are several challenges in the juvenile justice system, as it is characterized by imperfections and significant gaps. Therefore, the central objective of the paper at hand is to identify and describe the main issues related to the operation of the modern juvenile justice system of the US.
The Role of Status Offenses in Juvenile Delinquency
To begin with, it is essential to define the concept of status offense. In general terms, these are socially unacceptable behaviors, such as running away from home, skipping school and traffic violation. Even though the range of these behaviors is wide, it is evident that they are not crimes. However, offenders are treated like criminals based on their age or belonging to a particular class or group – in most cases, minorities (Levin and Cohen). The criticality of status offenses is the fact that they are perceived as crimes and are commonly addressed by incarcerating offenders. In this case, the major issue is that the 1980 version of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act allows incarceration because of committing a status offense (Knefel).
The risks of such a reaction to delinquent behavior – treating n minor offense like a serious crime – are connected to the increased likelihood that a teen treated in a similar way will grow up to become a serious offender (Levin and Cohen). From this perspective, the challenge is connected to the inability to perceive the needs and specificities of young offenders and address them in a manner to avoid changes in their personalities. As a result, it turns impossible to reintegrate into the community after committing a status offense, thus making teen isolated from society and instigating them to serious crimes in the future.
Adultification of Youth
Another challenge is referred to as the adultification of youth. It stands for the specificities in perceiving and treating younger offenders. In fact, they are seen as adults because they committed adult crimes (Benekos et al. 130). This challenge has several critical consequences. First of all, it is associated with the lowering of ages of criminal court jurisdiction. It means that younger offenders are unlikely to get away with community service.
Instead, they will be sentenced to custody in case of committing a serious crime. Another outcome connected to the adultification of younger offenders is the very fact that it leads to overcrowded jails. Accompanied with the increased attention to status offenses, it leads to situations when it is necessary to place kids in adult jails because there is the lack of places in juvenile jails. Regardless of the changes in federal legislation and the requirement to keep children out of adult jails, still more than 2,000 younger offenders are kept in adult prisons (Knefel).
This challenge is related not only to the perception of younger offenders but also the undesirable changes in their personalities. Just like in the case of incarcerations due to status offenses, there are increased risks of the future serious offenses because kids are transferred from juvenile justice system to criminal justice system (Knefel). More than that, it is associated with the increased rates of victimization and exposure to violence that has a negative influence on one’s personal development and future life (Benekos et al. 137). Because of it, they lack protection and the opportunities for their reintegration are limited.
Regardless of the legally proclaimed racial equality, in real life, it is impossible to guarantee it. The issue is even more critical in prisons as well as juvenile justice system. First of all, it can be explained by the significance of status offenses mentioned above. Because they are common for particular groups, racial minorities (especially, African American teens) are exposed to increased risks of being incarcerated for status offenses.
For instance, around 40 percent of African American teens have been incarcerated at least once. Also, they are twice as likely to be incarcerated compared to white peers (Knefel). More than that, there is a significant challenge of racial inequality in both prisons and the overall juvenile justice system. In this way, there are numerous instances of increased violation of human rights and excessive violence when it comes to treating racial minorities. In addition, once out of prison, it is more complicated for them to reintegrate into society due to tighter social control compared to white offenders (Cox 23).
Therefore, the central challenge is the inability to treat all offenders equally. In most cases, it is associated with ignoring legal provisions enhancing equality as well as failing to reform the system so that behavior, not skin color, is the only determinant that matters when treating a person (Cox 28). Finally, it is based on the lengthy segregation of criminal justice system, and juvenile justice system is its integral element that was as well segregated.
Possible Causes of the Existing Challenges
Modern American juvenile justice system operates according to the provisions of the 1974 legal document – Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Even though it has been amended several times over the following 40 years, the issue remains: the law is outdated so that it cannot control all critical challenges that emerge in the modern society. It can be explained by numerous social changes as well as the very fact that it has not been revised or reauthorized since 2002 (not to mention the 2014 and 2015 attempts to reauthorize the document that are still in progress) (Knefel).
That being said, regardless of including the major provisions for and requirements to the operation of the US juvenile justice system, the legal act is too weak for guaranteeing an adequate level of justice in the modern society and protecting young offenders as well as reintegrating them into their communities. In addition, even though other legal documents were adopted, the Act is the only federal law that is applicable to administering the juvenile justice system and setting standards for its operation.
Based on the facts and issues mentioned above, it is evident that the currently operating juvenile justice system of the United States cannot be perceived as a modern one. Failing to comply with the regulations of the federal legislation, racial disparities, keeping younger offenders with the adults, and a significant gap connected to the increased role of status offenses are just some of the challenges to mention.
Nevertheless, regardless of numerous imperfections, the system may still be improved. For instance, a successful reauthorization of the 1974 Act mentioned above and adopting supporting federal legal acts establishing standards for the operation of the US juvenile justice system may become the foundation for making the system modern and effective, especially if accompanied with establishing the system for monitoring compliance with both state and national standards.
Finally, the transformation of the juvenile court, recognizing age-related differences between offenders, seeking more efficient ways of reacting to status offenses (for instance, community service) and enhancing reintegration of the younger offenders in the society are other potentially efficient strategies for coping with the existing challenges and imperfections identified and described in the paper.
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Benekos, Peter J., et al. “In Defence of Children and Youth: Reforming Juvenile Justice Policies.” International Journal of Police Science & Management, vol. 15, no. 2, 2013, pp. 125-143.
Cox, Alexandra. “Responsible Submission: The Racialized Consequences of Neoliberal Juvenile Justice Practices.” Social Justice, vol. 41, no. 4, 2014, pp. 23-39.
Knefel, Molly. “Trying to Fix America’s Broken Juvenile Justice System.” Rolling Stone. 2015. Web.
Levin, Mark, and Derek H. Cohen. “Kids Doing Time for What’s Not a Crime: New Data Shows Youth Incarceration for Non-Violent Offenses Continue to Decline.” Texas Police. 2014. Web.