Juvenile Justice Essay

Juvenile delinquency is an issue that impacts every person in our society. It seems like every day you hear more and more about how children are engaging in criminal activities, some of these criminal acts are so severe that it shakes whole communities to their core. We are constantly reminded on a daily basis just how severe the issue of juvenile violence has become. These increasing levels of juvenile violence have shown up in the form of shooting in communities and schools, drug related crimes, robbery, and even murder.

This paper will focus on the history of juvenile delinquency in our nation, the different strategies and programs that are available to help prevent more juvenile crime, the pros and cons of these strategies and programs and how effective they are, and ways that we can improve on these strategies and programs. Up until the late nineteenth century, most young criminal offenders in our nation were treated and punished the same as adult offenders. Children as young as seven years old faced criminal trials and real jail sentences.

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It wasn’t until 1909 that Judge Julian Mack proposed in a Harvard Law Review article that a juvenile offender should be treated differently as an adult offender and that the juvenile justice system “should treat a child as a wise and merciful father handles his own child”. (Mack. 1909) The criminal justice system reformed the way that juveniles were treated in criminal cases and decided that youths involved in criminal activities should first and foremost be viewed as children who are in need of help. The early reformers envisioned a regime in which young offenders would receive treatment that would cure them of their antisocial ways- a system in which criminal responsibility and punishment had no place. Because of the juvenile court’s rehabilitative purpose, procedures were informal and dispositions were indeterminate. ” (Scott & Steinberg. 2008) This new rehabilitative model of juvenile justice seemed to be effective up until the 1960s.

Many believed that the informal proceeding and the coddling of these young offenders had no effect on the decreasing of juvenile criminal activities. During the 1980s juvenile crime rose, many mocked the juvenile system for failing to rehabilitate young offenders and blamed the increase of juvenile violence on the soft approach taken with juvenile proceedings. They believed that the juvenile justice system had become too soft-hearted for these young offenders and they were no longer up to the task of dealing with young criminals who committed serious crimes against society.

As juvenile crime rates rose during the 1980s and 1990s, particularly heinous crimes such as murder, politicians and citizens around the country began to demand that these offenders be punished more severely for their crimes. “The upshot of this reform movement is that the mantra “adult time for adult crime” has become a reality for many young offenders. Through a variety of initiatives, the boundary of childhood has shifted dramatically in a relatively short time, so that youths who are legal minors for every other purpose are adults when it comes to their criminal conduct. (Scott & Steinberg. 2008) For a lot of people in our society juvenile violence and criminal activity is a concern for the parents of the juvenile and for law enforcement officials and the court system. While it is the main concern for those involved in juvenile criminal activity, the increase of juvenile violence and criminal acts affect every person in every community. When a crime is committed in a community it has a direct effect on those closely involved with the act such as the offender, the victims, and the friends and family members of both.

These crimes also have huge impacts on the communities in which these crimes were committed. “In addition to causing injury and death, youth violence affects communities by increasing the cost of health care, reducing productivity, decreasing property values, and disrupting social services. ” (Mercy, etc. al. 2002) When crime rates increase in a community there is also a fear that is instilled in the residents of that community. This is the fear that their neighborhoods are no longer a safe place for them to live.

It has been shown that there is a connection between juvenile delinquency and drug use, gang involvement, alcohol abuse, and sexual behavior. These issues make neighborhoods unsafe and cost large amounts of taxpayer money to be spent on law enforcement and school safety. Juveniles who commit serious crimes before the age of 18 also challenge the future of our society. There are many motives behind these criminal acts including being victims of violence themselves, anger towards other individuals who appear to have an easier life than they have and looking for approval from peers.

Over the past few decades, broken homes, a child’s position in a family, and the size of the family have been the subject of study in juvenile delinquency. When a child is neglected, whether on purpose or not, the tendency for that child to start behaving in a negative manner is greatly increased. In our society today the ratio of families with both parents to families with a single parent has risen greatly since the 1950s. When there is only one parent who is providing an income, emotional support, and guidance there can be a lack of supervision and awareness of what is going on in their children’s lives.

This does not mean that a child who is raised in a loving, two parent family are not likely to become delinquent, in fact there really is no way to determine which children are most likely to be involved in criminal activities and which ones are not. Some children are simply bored and looking for entertainment while others are just trying to impress people in their social circles. “It is very hard to define juvenile delinquency in terms of deviance from conduct norms because norms vary from state to state, city to city, and neighborhood to neighborhood.

The attitudes and actions of parents exercise an important influence on whether a child is found to be incorrigible and disobedient or compliant and receptive to the learning experience. The policies of the police and the attitudes in the community can influence the notion of what delinquency is. ” (Wickliffe. 2000) Whatever the reasoning behind the crimes, juvenile delinquency affects millions of Americans every day posing a serious problem for our society. Having a better understanding of the causes of juvenile delinquency is an important part of preventing a child from becoming involved in criminal activities.

Being able to identify the potential risk factors that can lead to juvenile delinquency early interventions can occur and crimes can be prevented. Early intervention is the best approach we have for preventing juvenile delinquency. The earlier that we are able to recognize the behaviors in children that are predominant in juvenile offenders the better chance we have in preventing future criminal activities. The first step in early prevention starts at home with the family, in the schools, and in the communities.

In order to achieve early intervention of juvenile delinquency there needs to be more education into the matter. There are programs available to the public that assist families gain information on how to raise healthy children, teach children about the effects of gangs, drugs, and weapons, and there are programs whose main goal is to teach children about their self worth. All of these programs provide children with the awareness that their actions have consequences and that there is hope and opportunity for each and every one of them.

Many of the parents who are faced with violent or misbehaving children who are engaging in criminal activity tend to turn a blind eye towards this violent behavior. Nobody wants to believe that their child is capable of criminal activities; I know that I would have a hard time admitting that one of my children had a behavior problem and that they were acting out in ways that hurt other people. However, the caregivers of these troubled children have to at some point realize that their denial is only making the situation worse and is doing nobody any good.

By educating ourselves about the different behaviors and actions that can lead to delinquency we stand a better chance of ensuring that these are caught early on in a child’s life and are dealt with accordingly. Understanding the reasoning behind the actions can lead to prevention because the parent would not feel so alone and desperate. Realizing that there is help available for their children and getting them the help and support they need can make a significant impact on the way the child is behaving. Schools and communities can also do a lot towards the early prevention of juvenile delinquency.

Implementing classroom and behavior management programs, passing out social competence promotion materials, making conflict resolution and violence prevention programs a part of schools and communities, providing afterschool recreational programs and providing mentoring programs are all steps that can be taken by schools and communities to help prevent children from becoming delinquents. While the first steps in preventing childhood delinquency begin in the home and in the classroom even the best discipline and rule enforcements can have no consequences. Looking for programs or ways to prevent problems from etting out of hand can help a child and their families get a handle of their disruptive behaviors. One way to help a child through personal issues or prevent them from making bad choices is to surround them with supportive people in a positive environment. Turning to help outside the home is a great alternative in delinquency prevention because sometimes a child is unable to connect or confide in a family member about the problems they are having. One of the outside programs that is available to the youth in our society is the Boys and Girls Club of America.

The Boys and Girls Club of America mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. ” (BGA. 2012) The Boys and Girls Club of America provides a safe place for children to be able to learn and interact with one another while building relationships with caring and positive adult professionals. The goal of the Boys and Girls Club is to help ensure that every child has the same opportunities and are able to reach their full potential in their lives.

The Salvation Army also provides programs and activities that help disadvantaged youth who may be potentially at risk for social and academic problems. Community centers are located across the United States that offer children activities such as swimming, ice skating, rock climbing, access to computers and libraries. The goal of the Salvation Army is to offer children exposure to a variety of different activities that they may not have available to them at home or in their schools.

While early intervention is the main goal in the prevention of juvenile delinquency, we still must look forward and try to reach those who have already become involved in criminal activities. Rehabilitation is the main goal of juvenile courts and there is a belief that the majority of juvenile offenders have the desire to turn their lives around and live productive lives in our society. For those juvenile offenders who do not commit heinous crimes there are many options available to us that can be used to help in their rehabilitation.

Drug treatment programs, education, and counseling are all provided to these young offenders in the hope that they will help the juvenile in reforming. There are programs that are available to the juveniles who have committed more serious crimes such as juvenile boot camps and detention centers. There are many pros and cons when it concerns the programs and strategies that are available for the prevention of juvenile delinquency. While many of the programs that are available can be very helpful to many juvenile offenders, there are always those individuals who can’t seem to be reached by the efforts of others.

Lighter sentences such as community service and probation are handed down to many juvenile offenders because it has been determined that subjecting children to harsher forms of punishments may have an adverse effect on their ability to achieve rehabilitation. The juvenile justice system was created for criminal offenders under the age of 17 who have participated in criminal acts that require punishment under the law. Two themes drive the juvenile justice system, the welfare of the young offenders and the protection of the public safety.

Many people in our society believe that if the juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation, young offenders are more likely to make positive changes in their lives. Others believe that some juvenile offenders are not punished severely enough, such as those offenders who are considered to be dangerous and have committed serious crimes against society. The primary function of all sentences in the juvenile justice system, including probation, is rehabilitation. Because the juvenile justice system is focused on rehabilitation they tend to prefer the least restrictive sentencing alternative.

Probation is preferred over incarceration or detention camps when reasonably possible because of the benefits that probation has for everyone. A juvenile offender is more likely to have a better chance of a positive rehabilitation when they are in the least restrictive environment. The key benefit of juvenile probation in most cases is direct access to family support. Remaining in the home allows a minimal amount of disruption in the offender’s support system. Another benefit of juvenile probation is that it allows the offender to continue their education without too much interference.

Also, while on probation the young offender is closely monitored by a probation officer are less of a threat to society. The disadvantages of probation for juvenile offenders are that for some the freedom of not being detained allow them to continue their criminal activities. Also, it is not possible for the juvenile’s probation officer to be watchful of them 24 hours of the day, so it could very well be that the behaviors and actions of the juvenile are positive only during the times that the probation officer is around. I think that probation should be utilized when an offender has committed a crime that has not seriously harmed anyone.

Criminal acts such as armed robbery, battery, and murder should be punished with the same severity of the crime. It is important that our juvenile justice system does everything to ensure that young offenders can make positive changes in their lives, but it cannot allow violent offenders to remain free among society. The future of the juvenile justice system in the United States is something that does and should concern every citizen. Most people feel that when a child participates in criminal activities it is the primary responsibility of the parents and the criminal justice system to act.

While this is a true statement, juvenile crimes impact communities and society as a whole. Some believe that the juvenile justice system is effective and does an exceptional job with dealing with young offends while others believe that the system we have in place is too soft on these young individuals and that this weakness in enforcing punishment for crimes is why the juvenile crime rate is increasing. They believe that the soft handling of these young criminals only encourages others to engage in criminal activities because they know that their punishments will not be that severe.

We are all aware that there is no such thing as a perfect criminal justice system and there will always be room for improvement. I believe that the juvenile justice system will continue to grow and expand on the policies they use when dealing with young offenders. Not only will new policies and guidelines be implemented in the juvenile court systems, I believe that the growing concern and involvement of parents and communities will help ensure that future of our juvenile justice system is a great success.


Boys and Girls Club of America. 2012. Mission Statement. Retrieved from bgca. org on May 7, 2012. Mack, Julian. 1909. The Juvenile Court. Harvard Law Review 23, no. 104. Retrieved from ncjrs. gov on May 6, 2012. Mercy J, Butchart A, Farrington D, Cerda M. Youth violence. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, editors. World report on violence and health. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2002. Retrieved from cdc. gov/violenceprevention on May 7, 2012. Scott, Elizabeth & Steinberg, Lawerence. 2008. The Future of Children. Journal Issue: Juvenile Justice. Volume 18 no. 2. Retrieved from Princeton. edu/futureofchildren on May 6, 2012. Wickliffe, Joseph. 2000. Why Juveniles Commit Crimes. Retrieved from yale. edu on May 7, 2012.