Shifting to a restorative model, acknowledging the needs of victims
Shifting to a restorative model, acknowledging the needs of victims
The adult justice system in America has long focused upon retribution and community restoration as well as rehabilitation of offenders. Victims must be 'made whole,' not just offenders within the adult system. However, the juvenile justice system has had a far less clear focus upon the restoration of justice to the community than that of its adult counterpart. This is partially due to the oft-expressed view that juveniles are less morally responsible than adults. Juvenile records are usually 'wiped clean' after the adolescents have served their time in probation or prison. The focus of the juvenile justice system is always on the improvement of the life of the juvenile and to reduce the likelihood of recidivism, rather than outright punishment.
On the other hand, juveniles are also prosecuted for so-called status offenses, offenses that are crimes simply because they are juveniles -- thus they are punished even more harshly, because of their legally ambiguous status. This paper will argue that the juvenile justice system should resemble the adult justice system more closely, and focus on making reparations to the community, as well as the rehabilitation of the juvenile offender. The focus should not be on status offenses, but on offenses that do long-standing harm to communities and individuals, and the juvenile should have to give back to the community in restitution, as well as receive counseling and treatment from the justice system.
Like most adult offenders, a juvenile's first contact with the justice system is usually with the police, or law enforcement personnel in the streets. However, unlike adults, police are far more likely to show personal discretion when dealing with juveniles. For example, a police officer may apprehend a sixteen-year-old juvenile for a status offense (such as breaking curfew for under-eighteen-year-olds) to teach the child a lesson even though the officer knows the case is unlikely to go to court. Yet the officer may not press a shoplifting offense for an eleven-year-old and merely remand the child to his or her parents, although he or she would not do so with an adult. In most instances, when a police officer apprehends a juvenile, the police officer has four basic choices: to give the minor a warning at the scene, at the police station or at a juvenile center; to take the minor to a community program or to a shelter for abused children,; to write a citation and set a date for the minor to go to a juvenile intake center; or to take the minor to a juvenile intake center him or herself immediately (Juvenile justice, 2010, Santa Clara).
The juvenile, in contrast to an adult, has a very uncertain fate, regarding his or her first contact with the system and it is ambiguous as to whether the juvenile is a ward of the state. The criminal juvenile may be placed in foster care for his or her 'own good' as well as a kind of punishment to the parents for poor supervision. Or the young offender may be sent to an intake center. This depends on the view of the officer, even though the officer is not a trained social worker. Despite changes in other areas of the juvenile justice system: "Remarkably, the police role in juvenile justice has remained much the same. One of the central reasons for this has to do with the occupation of policing. Police officers work alone, without direct supervision, and they bear the burden of much discretion. It is difficult to know what officers do during their shifts and many of their contacts with youth (and adults) go without documentation in official records. When the creation of juvenile justice systems occurred (and this happened sporadically throughout the states), police handling of juveniles was not of much concern" (Myers 2010).
However, while police enforcement may lack consistency regarding treatment of juveniles, one positive development in terms of the relationship between juveniles and police has been that the development of mentoring relationships between the two groups before crime occurs. "August Vollmer, the father of police professionalism…formed one of the first juvenile bureaus & #8230;Vollmer advocated for…officers to be educated on the causes of juvenile delinquency and to develop programs that would help keep juveniles out of trouble" (Myers, 2010). Police athletic leagues and DARE drug education programs in which police teach schoolchildren about the dangers of drugs are part of Vollmer's legacy.
Within juvenile court, the juvenile may be released with a warning, or be subject to court-mandated supervision. The probation officer can put the minor on informal probation and require the minor go to school, do community service, or seek counseling for a specified period of time. Or charges may be filed. "When the probation officer decides what to do, they also decide to let the minor go or keep the minor at the Juvenile Center. If the probation officer suggests to the DA to file charges, the DA's Office will file a petition…. After the DA files a petition, there has to be a detention hearing to decide if the minor should be taken out of their house. If the minor is already locked up, the Court will decide if the minor should stay locked up. If the minor is locked up, they'll have the hearing the day after the DA files the petition… [At the hearing] the minor can question the person who prepared the evidence and the people who gave information in the detention hearing. The minor can also have witnesses to support their side of the story. And, the minor can present evidence of their own. But, for this hearing only, the Court must believe that the petition is true" (Juvenile justice, 2010, Santa Clara).
This is followed by a jurisdictional hearing starts in which the minor can fight the charges, or plead guilty. If the minor is found guilty, either by plea or after cross-examination, there is a Disposition Hearing, in which the judge decides what to do for the minor's care, treatment and guidance, including the minor's punishment. The judge must decide "how to protect the community and keep it safe, how to fix the victim's injury" and very much contrary to adult justice "what's best for the minor" (Juvenile justice, 2010, Santa Clara).
Individuals who have been wronged by juveniles often complain that this system of justice is extremely unfair to victims of crime: the juvenile's welfare, rather than their own becomes the focus of the proceedings. Yet advocates for juveniles would counter that juveniles do not have the maturity and cognitive capacity of an adult, and should not be judged in the same manner as an adult. After all, should an eleven-year-old child's life be 'thrown away' when he or she is still morally developing?
A different model, however, is demanded, beyond that of a purely rehabilitative vision. In fact, to properly rehabilitate the juvenile, it could be argued, it is better to try to encourage them to confront the harms they have done to society in a more constructive manner. Combining punishment and rehabilitation is one of the cornerstones of restorative justice. This philosophy holds that crime is an injury to the victim and community. The victims must be healed, and there is an obligation for offenders of all ages to participate in that healing process. "All parties should be a part of the response to the crime, including the victim if he or she wishes, the community, and the juvenile offender. The victim's perspective is central to deciding how to repair the harm caused by the crime. Accountability for the juvenile offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done" (Balanced and restorative justice, 2010, OJJDP). Restoration is essential, and the focus of the juvenile justice system must be on the victim as well as the offender.
Probation for juveniles often demands some form of obligation of the juvenile to play 'by the rules' such as going to school, not associating with known delinquents, and remaining at home when not in school. These types of restrictions are most common when status offenses are the main reason for the juvenile's apprehension, such as running away or truancy. However, a problem with the juvenile justice system is that its emphasis is often always and only on the moral development of the juvenile, rather than upon the damage he or she did to the victim or the community, even when the juvenile has committed non-status offenses.
Requiring the juvenile to obey certain conditions to secure probation may be valuable. But having the individual engage in community service efforts that directly tie into the crime and writing a letter to his or her victims forces the juvenile took look outside of his or her worldview, and demands that the defendant realize that it isn't 'all about him (or her)' (Uberman 2010). An example…