The historical evolution of the juvenile justice system started to emerge in the 1800’s when children were viewed differently from adults. Prior to this, the English common law treats youthful offenders as similar to any adult who committed a crime and imposing similar penalties even corporeal harsh punishment and oftentimes capital punishment. It was in the 1900’s that the state begins to show interest in the child’s welfare and even state legislations were introduced to provide more humanitarian care for juvenile offenders. Influenced by social changes and urbanization, the state begins to recognize adolescence and children as having a unique stage of development in their physical, moral, emotional and intellectual development. Reform movements were proposed to decriminalize delinquency and it was until the 20th centuries that the concerned citizens called as the Child Savers were able to influence state legislators to introduce the House of Refuge, otherwise called the reform schools which will house youth offenders for reformation instead of the adult prisons (Siegel and Welsh, 2012).
Alternative institutions then started to emerge where juvenile delinquents were placed under institutional communities where they live with families to work, learn, obtain guidance and develop a sense of responsibility. The juvenile justice system was further revolutionized when John Augustus introduced the concept of probation. The probation system provides for an alternative justice system for low risk and first time offenders instead of institutionalized confinement. The probation system is in lieu for the more formal adjudication of the delinquencies committed by the youth offenders subject to the conditions imposed by the court (Torbet, 1996). Soon after, the juvenile matters were removed from the adult criminal courts and the Special Juvenile and Family Courts were instituted. The probation system then becomes an integral part of the Juvenile Justice System which goals include the promotion of the general welfare and rehabilitation of children who are offenders.
The establishment of the Juvenile Justice System further reinforces the recognition of the constitutional rights of children. As adjudicated in the landmark case of Engel vs. Vitale, the court declared that it is unconstitutional to compel the students to recite a prayer prepared by the school Regents in the public schools, for the same is violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits the creation of law respecting the establishment of religion. This is significant as it reflects that children are now being accorded by the court with equal rights as embodied in the constitution. At the same light, children are also accorded with the Constitutional right to a due process as promulgated in the case of In re Gault where the court upheld that juveniles should be accorded with the same procedural right to a due process that is available for the adults. Such right to a due process is guaranteed to juveniles who are facing an adjudication of delinquency and incarceration by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. The Juvenile Justice System is likewise according protection to juvenile offenders against cruel and unusual punishment. As indicated in the Thompson vs Oklahoma case, the court overturned the death sentence to a minor ruling that the imposition of a capital punishment to a juvenile offender who was convicted for the crime of murder violates his constitutional rights. It was declared in the court ruling that this is in violation of the Eighth Amendment Constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Its rationalization provides that this prohibition is marked with the decency of a maturing society. Another significant realization from this ruling is that the court’s declaration reflects that the banning of the execution of minors is an international recognition and upholding of children’s rights recognized by the industrialized Western nations. The above court rulings are highly reflective of the significant evolution of the juvenile justice system that is now far reaching across the international laws.
While the juvenile justice system provides for the mandatory proceeding of juvenile delinquencies committed by minor offenders before the juvenile court, the same is not an absolute rule and upon the discretionary power of the court, juvenile waiver may be executed to divest the juvenile court of its jurisdiction to hear the proceeding and to bring the case for trial in an adult court. The process is often called as certification or judicial waiver in some states and the transfer of the proceeding to an adult court will deny the juvenile offender the protection accorded by the law to minors under the juvenile justice system. While such is a discretionary power of the court, it cannot be executed without meeting certain criteria that will warrant the juvenile waiver as proper. States vary in the criteria imposed for a juvenile waiver. The factors that are considered for the waiver process include the minimum age which usually varies from state to state, the type and level of the offense and a previous record of delinquency. Some courts also observe juvenile waiver standards allowing the waiver only when there no prospect for a successful rehabilitation is seen from the juvenile offender that can warrant the public safety.
The juvenile waiver has some implications with regards to the child and the society. Under the doctrine of parens patriae, the state has the inherent power and authority to protect its people and to consider their general welfare. The juvenile justice procedure takes an informal and non-adversarial proceeding which is more suited for minor offenders, giving them better opportunity to reform by committing them in correctional and community based institutions instead of the adult prison environment. Being committed in the adult criminal court, juvenile offenders will be exposed in a system that routinely punishes offenders instead of introducing them to a community based network support (Martin, 2005). Unlike the juvenile court that offers a softer rehabilitative terms and standards, the exposure of juvenile to the adult criminal system with a harsher punishment.
Martin, G. (2005). Juvenile Justice: Process and Systems. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Siegel, L.J. and Welsh, B.C. (2012). Juvenile Delinquency Theory, Practice, and Law. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
Torbet, P.M. (1996). Juvenile Probation: The Workhorse of the Juvenile Justice System. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention - U.S. Department of Justice. Washington: Juvenile Justice Bulletin.