Flaws and Fixes of Juvenile Justice System
While the juvenile justice system was originally created to be a social welfare agency to aid youth and their families through increasing availability of services, the practices do not always align with the ideals. For some, the juvenile system does act as an early intervention to prevent life persistent offending, but for others, the experience has left them survivors of abuse and struggling to navigate a world with more obstacles than before. As a result, some aspects of the system have been deemed to be lacking. This paper identifies those aspects as well as proposes ways to improve upon these deficits.
What needs to be fixed?
The major, overarching aspects of the juvenile system that are lacking are prevention of youthful offending and decreasing interaction with the system. While the juvenile system offers services to families and youth in need, they only receive access to these services after the child has offended and been referred to the juvenile system. If the services were available prior to the child offending, it may have been prevented. In addition, the juvenile system is designed to maintain privacy of those involved but through notification of schools or other agencies, it is possible for the child to experience labeling theory and an increased amount of other obstacles that were not present before interaction.
Following the above mentioned proposal to invest more in preventative measures would result in juveniles interacting with the juvenile justice system less due to lower rates of offending, but there should be a push to decrease interaction between the juvenile system and the juveniles that still are referred to the system.
The juvenile system is based on the ideas that juveniles should remain separate from adults, should not have proceedings publicized and should not be labeled as a criminal due to the negative effects those actions can have. The juvenile system is more private than the adult system in regards that juveniles have their records sealed after proceedings and due to there not being an uniformed identification system in New York at least, juveniles can receive different ID numbers each time they offend depending on the location of their offense. These measures ensure that juveniles do not have a record following them throughout life and cannot experience the negative effects that result from being labeled delinquent or criminal. They also ensure that longitudinal studies of juvenile offending are more complicated to track and prevent the public from being involved in juvenile cases.
While these measures do aim to protect the juveniles who interact with the system, they are not always foolproof. One example is that juveniles can still experience the negative effects of labeling. Labeling theory is the concept that when a person commits a deviant or criminal act, while it was act that was labeled deviant or criminal, he or she is also labeled as a deviant or criminal person (Skaggs, 2016). The labeling of the behavior is used to also define the person, and because society turns away from deviant or criminal acts, society turns away from that person. The juvenile system does not publicize the proceedings, but some outside agencies, such as schools, are notified when one of their students becomes involved with the system. While this is intended for the school to increase resources to the student, such as a meeting with the school counselor or being offered added help if truancy is an issue, the reaction of those at the school can be detrimental to the juvenile. If they are removed from the classroom as a result of their behavior, the other children will notice and react to their absence. Children may not want to be friends or spend time with someone who has gotten in trouble. If the children do not shy away from the juvenile because of his or her behavior, they may be told not to spend time with the juvenile by their parents who may have heard about the juvenile’s delinquent acts. In addition, the teachers and staff members may react differently to a kid labeled as a “trouble-maker” or “delinquent.” Instead of putting in more effort to understand the reason why the child is acting the way he or she is, the child’s behavior could be dismissed as being just the child’s personality. While the juvenile is most vulnerable and in need to outside assistance, the label of “delinquent” could result in less access to those needs. Relationships and dynamics within the family of the juvenile could also be strained or changed due to the interaction with the system. While in some cases, the family dynamics could exacerbate the effects of the label, Jackson & Hay (2013) found that warm, supportive parents can reduce the likelihood that their children will reoffend.
When a child experiences decreased interaction with prosocial peers and adults, there can be an increase in antisocial behavior or crime. Children that do not feel as if the teachers care, may become truant. Children that are denied friendship with the “good” kids may turn to spending time with other children labeled delinquent. The labeling of a child as delinquent or a “trouble-maker” sets in action a deterioration of bonds not only with teachers and peers, but also with the community. Social bond theory states that if bonds are strong, then an individual is more likely to conform to societal norms and are less likely to offend (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2014, p. 212-250). If the juvenile is experiencing an ousting from conventional peers, adult role models, institutions such as school, and are no longer able to participate in conventional activities, it is theorized that the juvenile would continue to offend. Differential association and social learning theories explain that when the child is ousted from the conventional community, the child will spend time with others who are criminal or deviant and learn how to act from those non-conventional peers and adults. This all would further exacerbate the pushes on the juvenile to continue offending.
Theory proposes that the more a juvenile interacts with the justice system, the more negative effects he or she experiences and the higher the chance of reoffending. This theory is supported by facts. A study conducted by Liberman, Kirk, and Kim (2014) found that a first arrest increased both the likelihood of subsequent offending and arrest following the labeling theory. Also, they found that being arrested did not increase offending, but increased law enforcement responses in comparison to youth who were offending at the same level but have evaded a first arrest.
Most juveniles that commit minor offenses do not interact with the system, but instead are diverted to other agencies or officers let the youth go with a warning. One proposal to remedy the interaction between the system and juveniles that are involved is restorative justice programs. Restorative justice programs operate under the assumption that crimes are an injury to the community and that it is beneficial for the person who committed that injury must repair the community (“Guide for implementing…,” n.d.). Generally, there is a restorative justice board that consists of various people from the community who have been prepared with intensive training. This board considers what the community constitutes as a harm against them and when an individual commits one of these harms, they will have a hearing. This hearing will involve the offender retelling what happened, accepting responsibility for the harm caused, and creating a plan that would repair the community. There can be many different avenues that the board recommends the offender to do to repair their relationship with the community. These can include, but are not limited to: victim-offender mediation, conferencing, family group conferencing or decision making, restorative cautioning, and restorative dialogue (“What is restorative justice?, 2012).
Restorative justice programs have shown the ability to achieve increased community and victim involvement, improved offender compliance, increased perceptions of fairness, greater satisfaction with case outcomes, and reduced recidivism (Bergseth & Bouffard, 2013). In the study conducted by Bergseth and Bouffard (2013), they found that not only was their hypothesis that restorative justice programs were beneficial in reducing recidivism rates for offenders in the program compared to offenders who were referred to traditional juvenile court regardless of age, gender, racial group membership, prior offending history, or whether it was a property or violent referring offense, but the only group that experienced a slightly smaller reduction in recidivism was those referred to with “other” offenses (p. 1071). They found on average that youth referred to the program did not reoffend an average of 10.5 months longer than those referred to traditional court. There were similar results in the studies conducted by Rodriguez (2007), Bradshaw & Roseborough (2005), De Beus & Rodriguez (2007), and Bergseth & Bouffard (2007).
Interaction with the juvenile justice system can have beneficial or detrimental effects on youth. When the system is able to perform and follow its intended ideals, juveniles are given the resources needed to desist in future offending, but when the system is unable to do so, the effects of interacting with the system could be worse than if the juvenile was never involved in the first place. Moving forward, it is essential to correct the areas the system is most lacking. As stated before, doing so can not only help prevent initial offending, but decrease reoffending and save money spent on punitive endeavors.
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