While abolition of the juvenile justice system would be a step back for our justice system that does not mean that it is flawless or that it could not benefit from some major overhauling. We need to maintain the rehabilitative ideal that juvenile delinquents are capable of reform. In addition, it is necessary for us to utilize the sociological and psychological advancements in knowledge we have obtained over the years. I believe that an overhauled juvenile justice system that better utilizes the services of behavioral scientists and psychologists will help to manage juvenile offenders in cities such as Baltimore. Treating the behavioral and psychological reasons for juvenile delinquency directly should result in healthier youth and less recidivism. In the long run, this idea will lead to reduced adult crime as well, as the juveniles mature into majority.
We need to think outside the box and utilize our knowledge in more than just typical ways. For example, “psychologists can assist in developing and applying the knowledge necessary to teach youth how to use their rights. Similarly, they can evaluate procedures to determine those that enable youth really to have their say and to feel that they were treated fairly.” (Feld, 1999, p. 357).
Victim-offender reconciliation should be part of all strategies in curbing juvenile delinquency. The Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution at Missouri State University, Dr. Charlene Berquist, states, “When juvenile offenders come to these dialogues and sit down with the individuals they harmed, they often feel empathy for their victims for the first time. By speaking with the victim, they realize the impact of their actions.” (Missouri State University, 2006). Dr. Berquist adds that similar programs across the United States have been shown to dramatically reduce recidivism among such youth. (Missouri State University, 2006).
While detention is sometimes necessary for violent offenders in order to protect the community, it is not effective for deterrence purposes. Detention should be our last resort within the juvenile justice system. In fact, any type of contact within the juvenile justice system should be a last resort. Research shows that juveniles diverted from the formal system and placed in rehabilitative programs recidivate less. Therefore, we need more diversion and less formal treatment of juvenile delinquents, avoiding formal processing whenever possible.
When it is not avoidable and formal processing must take place, it is essential that juveniles are given the full procedural protections granted to adult criminals. This includes the currently denied right, in many states, to a jury trial. Additionally, juveniles should always have the benefit of counsel and the right to counsel should not be something that can be waived without first consulting with an attorney.
Finally, the goal of the juvenile justice system must revert entirely back to its wisdom of a rehabilitative philosophy. The increase in determinate sentencing in order to ensure equitable sentencing amongst similar offenders has no place in a rehabilitation-focused system. No two individuals are alike and the rate at which one juvenile rehabilitates as opposed to another will vary. Therefore if rehabilitation is the goal it is completely understandable that one juvenile might be treated for one year while another juvenile might be treated for two years. As long as we trust the honor and integrity of those we put in the position of making sentencing decisions, there should be no question as to the fairness of such treatment.
Brash, R. (2004). Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction: Strategies for a Safer Baltimore. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.
Cengage Learning. (2009). Landmark Decisions: In re Gault (1967). Retrieved May 12, 2009, from Cengage Learning: http://www.wadsworth.com/criminaljustice_d/templates/student_resources/0534629016_gaines/landmark/ch15.html
Feld, B. C. (1999). Readings in Juvenile Justice Administration. New York: Oxford University Press.
Missouri State University. (2006). 26th Circuit Victim-Offender Mediation Program. Retrieved May 12, 2009, from Missouri State University: http://www.missouristate.edu/cdr/26th_Circuit_VOM_Program.htm
SCHWORM, P. (2006). STUDY FAULTS TREATMENT OF JUVENILE OFFENDERS. Retrieved May 12, 2009, from The Boston Globe: http://www.Boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/03/14/study_faults_treatment_of_juvenile_offenders/
Wikipedia. (2009, March 8). In re Gault. Retrieved May 12, 2009, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_re_Gault