The actual court proceedings in a juvenile court consist of the arrest procedure, search and seizure, and custodial interrogation (Calderon 2006). The concept has been that the delinquent is a child rather than a criminal. Hence, rehabilitation rather than punishment is the court and the system's goal. But the major aspects of the juvenile justice system continue to hound its supporters. One is the cause of serious juvenile crime. Another is that young offenders need to be rehabilitated under a surrogate entity of the parens patriae concept. Another is a recent redefinition of young violent offenders as adults and their transfer to adult courts and the criminal or adult justice system. There has been increasing belief that they pose a serious and genuine threat to the safety of other young people and the community as a whole. An increase in serious juvenile crimes warrants more severe punishment. But moving them to the same place with adult offenders is a critical step, as there has as yet no understanding or agreement on what age sufficient understanding develops. Trying a juvenile offender as an adult offender is a serious decision, which will also seriously affect society and the young offender's future. The vested interests of the other players in the court decision likewise merit consideration. The two justice systems use different legal standards. Children naturally lack the cognitive ability to participate in the adjudicative process. And the choice of whether the young offender should be tried in an adult or juvenile court necessarily determines the outcome of the adjudication. A finding of guilt in an adult court almost always means some punishment. A finding of delinquency in a juvenile court results in rehabilitation and punishment in combination. Rather than eliminating it or reintegrating it into the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system needs an overhaul, more funding, and better initiatives for programs, which will truly incorporate the parents patria concept into the young offender's rehabilitation (Calderon).
Other opinions argue that offenders 12 years old and under should not be moved to adult courts on the basis of their limited adjudicative competence (Steinberg 2001). This does not mean they should not be punished but rather held within a system viewing them as children and not yet as fully mature adults. But the large majority of offenders 16 years old and older are not to different from adults and can sufficiently participate in adjudication within the adult criminal justice system. Offenders between 12 and 16 require individualized assessment of their competence to stand trial. The judges, prosecutors and defense attorney should be allowed to evaluate and judge the offender's maturity and eligibility for transfer to an adult court (Steinberg).
There are also issues of race and ideology to contend with as among the impediments and issues confronting the current juvenile justice system (Hopson and Obidah 2002). Young people of color experience unequal and inequitable treatment within the system. The larger situation suggests that the decisions are tougher on them. The problems they confront go way beyond what has plagued the juvenile court for more than a hundred years. Youth criminality, deviance and discipline for young people of color have compounded the situation. There have been disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Native Americans arrested and handled by juvenile courts. A racial double standard is revealed. These young offenders of color find themselves at a clear disadvantage in their struggle to obtain equal protection under the law and the right to a good attorney. Reforms made to rehabilitate the system have created contradictory effects on juveniles of color. The young Black offender sees race as a significant factor in his or her treatment through the juvenile justice process. African-American youth have been over-represented in official reports of youth crime. These reports said that African-Americans accounted for only 15% of the American population. Yet they were responsible for approximately 50% of arrests for violent crime. The Sentencing Project Briefing Fact Sheets also said that 75% of juvenile defendants arrested and charged with drug offenses were Black and 95% of juveniles waived to adult prison for drug violations were minorities (Hopson and Obidah).
The American Bar Association said that approximately 200,000 youths are tried in adult courts every year (Juvenile Justice Digest 2001). The figure had doubled between 1985 and 1997 and was expected to increase as more laws were created for juveniles to be tried as adults. The Association published guidelines for juvenile cases referred to adult courts for use by policymakers and law practitioners. The guidelines were derived from the seven general principles, which included the developmental differences between young and adult offenders and in all the aspects of the criminal justice system (Juvenile Justice Digest).
Within the realm of a justice system is the basic social belief that society is responsible for rearing and raising children into peace-loving and useful adults (Steinberg 2001). Their family, friends, peers, the community, social workers, the justice system and everyone else in society each have a role to play in bringing them up to fit the image (Steinberg). Yet contemporary society, with a newly and recently evolved victim culture, has eagerly embraced therapy and a strong belief in the powers of social engineering (Stolba 2001). It finds the idea of certain individuals, especially children, as deliberately refusing to change as something simply distasteful. Many juvenile offenders are products of very unsettled times and turbulent environments. But it is the State's responsibility to save and reform them (Stolba). In that direction, it must first figure out how to categorize these offenders before it can appropriately deal with them in realizing its mission within the current system of justice.
Calderon, M (2006). A reflective comparison of the juvenile criminal justice system vs. The adult criminal justice system. 23 web pages. Anai Rhoads. Retrieved on April 29, 2008 at http://www.anairhoads.org/calderon/juvadult.shtml
Colquitt, J. (2002). American Criminal Justice System. Retrieved on April 30, 2008 from http://www.law.ua.edu/conquitt/crimmain/crimmisc/crime.htm
Hopson, R. K and Obidah, J.E. (2002). When getting tough means getting tougher.
21 pages. The Journal of Negro Education: Howard University
Juvenile Justice Digest (2001). Guidelines for youths in adult court system. 2 pages.
Washington Crime News Service: ProQuest Informtion and Learning Company