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What is significant about youth court is that the attorneys, jurors and even the judges are themselves adolescents and many times former defendants (Butts, Hoffman & Buck, 1999). The foundational premise or ideology behind youth courts is that the youth's judgment from their peer cohorts may be more convincing and in the long run beneficial than judgment handed down by officials and adults in the judicial system. Because many times the participants in youth court as jurors, attorneys and judges have been through the system, the sanctions handed down are frequently stiffer than what a defendant would have received had they gone through more formalized proceedings (Butt, Hoffman & Buck, 1999). In many ways, those who have gone through the system use youth court and the sanctions that follow as a 'wake-up call' to the first time offender.
One of the concerns expressed by researchers in the field of juvenile justice is that youth courts began to develop rather rapidly, ahead of results from empirical research or any empirical evidence of the long-term effectiveness of the program (Butts, Buck & Coggeshall, 2002). At present, there are more than 700 youth courts nationwide and is seen as one of the fastest growing alternatives to traditional intervention strategies. Estimates indicate that more than 100,000 cases annually or 1 of every 8 charged juvenile offenders are processed through youth court with only one "major evaluation of teen courts" (Butts, Buck & Coggeshall, 2002, p. 233). According to the evaluative study executed at four sites, the rate of recidivism for youth participating in teen court was determined significantly lower over the course of 6 months follow up then through traditional processes (Butts, Buck & Coggeshall, 2002).
Programs like Scared Straight are another example of secondary prevention efforts. The Scared Straight programs are rooted in deterrence theory and were initiated in the 1970's in New Jersey (Finchenauer & Gavin, 1999). These kinds of programs literally take teen into prison where they are confronted by inmates who use hard nose tactics to let the youth know what real prison life is all about. However, according to results conducted following these kinds of prevention/intervention initiatives and programs, the rate of recidivism is actually higher rather than lower, which according to Finckenauer and Gavin (199) supports the popularized myth that threatening punishment deters crime or the continuation of criminal activity.
Zero tolerance policies have also been instituted subsequent to some highly publicized school shootings (Howell, 2003). Zero tolerance policies advocate immediate suspension and/or expulsion of any individual found in possession of a weapon of any kind on school grounds. Since the time of the initial development of zero tolerance policies there has been significant expansion in many school districts and states to include infractions such as having contraband of any drugs including cigarettes on the premises, fighting, threats of fighting etc. (Howell, 2003). There has been a great deal of fanfare in the media resulting from several incidence when children were suspended or expelled for having aspirin in school, a butter knife in a lunch bag, or cursing in the presence o school officials. There are still questions as to whether zero tolerance policies have gone too far and whether or not they are effective (Howell, 2003).
The restorative justice movement has institution other reforms that were minimally known outside of academia up until the 1990's (Bazemore & Walgrave, 1999). These programs take on many forms including community reparation boards, circle sentencing, victim offender mediation and family group conferencing (Bazemore & Umbreit, 2001). Where most programs focus on the offender of the crime, the philosophy of restorative justice reform is on the victim of the crime as well as the family and the larger community that support both the offender and victim. Areas such as forgiveness, apologies, and reparations are often the focus of these kinds of programs. The goals according to proponents of restorative justice, are to provide education to the participants as to the harms that are caused including emotional harms, the repairing of relationships, and the strengthening and rebuilding of informal social systems of control (Bazemore & Umbreit, 2001). Although many developed countries have established restorative justice programs with promising results, the United States has failed to keep pace with these countries (Bazemore & Walgrave, 1999). Bazemore and Walgrave assert that the reason these programs have not been more widespread in the United States is because juvenile justice administrators today are often overwhelmed
with responding to policy maker demands that they get tough
(while continuing to provide treatment)… in an already
overcrowded field where a new "program of the month" and a new "crisis o the week" vie for the attention of juvenile justice administrators, it is questionable whether restorative justice practices and policies will break through as priorities (p. 60).
Much has transpired in the area of juvenile justice since its inception. Over the course of the past 20 years, much has been done in the way of instituting various prevention and intervention initiatives, changes in the law and how juvenile offender cases are disposed, as well as research and evaluation of many of the programs that have been instituted. There is more evidence today regarding what programs are effective and what programs have proven to be ineffective over time. What continues to be a challenge in the juvenile justice system is the knee jerk response to heightened incidents of juvenile crime that foster new legislation and programming from a politicized perspective with little if any consideration as to the efficacy or longevity of the program. Although much has been done in the area of juvenile justice, there is still more than needs to be done to discontinue the fragmented community-based programs that are readily evident in communities across the United States.
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