Throughout the American history, young offenders as young as seven years old have been incarcerated and held in the same facilities with grownups. The state of New York was the first to notice this injustice and in the 1824, the House of Refuge was opened. It was the first house of reform in the United States of America. States followed suit and established their own reform houses. In Maryland, children were held in a separate facility for the first time in history. In 1899, the Cook County in the state of Illinois opened the first juvenile court. The proceedings in the juvenile courts were civil in nature as opposed to the ones in adult courts that were criminal. The court focused on the youth other than the crime and looked for ways to make the offender a better member of the society.
The trial in the juvenile court for young offenders was not regarded as a constitutional right until the Supreme Court’s decision in Re Gault in 1967. The court informed all juvenile offenders, of their right to obtain legal counsel, the right to information and cross-examination, the right not to give self-incriminating evidence and the right to receive the transcript of the proceedings. The United States Congress reacted to the ruling by passing the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control act of 1968. The Act required juvenile offenders not to be held in the same detention facility as the adult offenders, until certain circumstances were met. The Act required states to maintain minimal contact between the adult offenders and the young delinquents. The youthful offenders who have committed status crimes should not be held in an adult detention facility or confined in a juvenile detention facility. Lastly, the Act required states to create plans that would with time reduce the number of minority offenders in the juvenile system.
The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act created two government departments to deal with youthful offenders. A Juvenile division was created in the division of justice. The National Institute of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and the office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency prevention are two institutions created by the act to deal with juvenile legal issues.
Juvenile crimes rose in the 1980s and 1990s. States across America enacted tough laws to curb the rise. Mary land was on the forefront by legislating that youths would be charged like adults if they committed violent crimes and weapons offenses. The focus has shifted to deinstitutionalizing the juvenile system. Juvenile needs will be addressed by smaller community based facilities in the future. The focus has shifted from punishing the offenders to providing rehabilitation.
It would be better if juvenile criminals were rehabilitated rather than incarcerated. Juvenile offenders are in the process of growing up and may not understand the full extent of the consequences of their actions. Most of the times they are experimenting with life and unfortunately they find themselves in the wrong side of the law. These delinquent citizens are a product of the society that seeks to send them behind jail bars. Young offenders should be taught of the effects of crime especially on their victims. If the young offenders are relocated to rehabilitation centers such will help in decongesting the prisons. First time offenders if they are given guidance and counseling, chances of committing the same offence in the future are reduced drastically. States for the last two decades have adopted punitive measures against young offenders. They are concentrating on passing bills that hurt young of more than before. These pieces of legislation should be scrapped and better methods of handling young people implemented for the benefit of the future generations.
In 2005 the supreme court of the Missouri, in Ropper v Simmons set the minimum age for execution to be 18 years the court prohibited juvenile execution citing that it violated the eighth amendment of the United States constitution. The decision had immediate repercussions, 71 juvenile offenders who were waiting execution missed death by a whisker. With this decision made it’s now evident that United States of America has conformed to the set standards of human rights set by Amnesty international. This does not mean that juvenile executions have come to an end in America. Up to now 18 states have not updated their laws to confirm with Ropper v Simmons. These states continue to execute minors unconstitutionally.
The juvenile court system has evolved over the years. Before the twentieth century many juvenile offenders were tried and convicted as adults. In 1909 Judge Julian Mack wrote an article in the Harvard law review that the juvenile offenders should be treated the way a parent would treat his or her child. The juvenile system evolved to become fully functional in 1967 when it was made a constitutional right by the United States Supreme Court. The 1980s and 1990s saw an increase in the number of juvenile crimes especially involving guns and other offensive weapons. The states were quick to curb the rising wave of terror by applying punitive laws to handle the problem. It should be noted that adolescences are young people who are developing their judgment of what is right and wrong and the states should take more responsible approach to handle the growing cult of violence amongst young people.
Juvenile justice system helps young people to become responsible citizens. Before the age of eighteen years, a youngster is usually struggling with academic issues, emotional issues and family matters. These factors coupled with the desire to rebel against authority, lead to increased tendency to commit crime. The desire for rebellion and sheer curiosity to rebel makes young people susceptible to crime. Juvenile justice systems provide the moral support needed to these youngsters. They are taught on the importance of upholding the law.
Most young offenders are mentally unstable. Juvenile justice system identifies such traits in the juvenile offenders and ensures the offenders get the right medical treatment. They identify the mental illnesses that require emergency clinical treatment. Once the offenders are treated their tendencies to commit crimes reduce drastically. The juvenile justice system substitutes the role of a parent or a legal guardian on behalf of the government.
In the Criminal justice system train the youth of various life skills that can be very helpful in the future. The Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility runs a program called Project HEART, where inmates are given a chance care for abandoned dogs. The youth is also given a chance to prove that he can take care of the dog. Only after succeeding is the dog given for adoption through the local animal shelter or when the youth is released he or she is allowed to adopt the animal.
In conclusion, the juvenile justice system has developed over the years to provide justice to young people. Over the years great strides have been made and states should not reverse the gains made by passing punitive laws to combat the rising cases of juvenile crimes. The supreme court of Missouri decision on the minimum age of execution should be adhered to by all states. States should be quick to enforce the decision so that justice is served to all and America conforms to the international rights standards set by the amnesty international. Another loophole legislators and judges should seal is dragging the case until the offender is eighteen before he or she is executed.
Champion, J. D., Merlo, V. A., & Benekos, J. P. (2012). The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and The Law. New York: Pearson Education, Limited.
Whitehead, T. J., & Lab, P. S. (2012). Juvenile Justice: An Introduction. New York: Elsevier.