A child needs protection and special care from the time of conception needs which includes appropriate legal protection for he/she is still immature (office of UNHCR, 1959). The declaration goes ahead to state in its sixth principle that a child shall only be separated from its parents under special circumstances after which the society and public shall be charged with the responsibility of the child’s support. This among other reasons brings about the need for the justice system to have a separate code of conduct for minors.
According to the federal Juvenile Delinquency act, Juvenile Delinquency is an act of crime committed by a minor (Hutchison encyclopedia, 9th July 2008). This act further goes ahead to state rules governing juvenile courts. The branch of criminal law that deals in prosecuting minors such as persons under the age of eighteen is referred to as Juvenile justice. The age after which a person is considered to be an adult and thus considered to be fully responsible for his or her action is in most cases set at eighteen years. Juvenile law varies from state to state as the codes governing them are mainly governed by state law which is variant. If in the course of a trial a minor turns to an adult the juvenile courts are forced to waiver their jurisdiction as they have no mandate in cases involving adults.
The state police and the courts hold in high regard and accept the state bodies that are responsible for bringing forward juvenile courts and providing means and ways by which unlawfulness in minors can be dealt with. Such bodies are also charged with the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of children. The state, as by the powers conferred to it by the parens patriae doctrine, has a mandate to create laws that would ensure the well-being of juveniles within its confines (Moak & Hutchinson, n.d)
Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1968 which was revised and renamed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act n 1972 was a key step to the setting of standards that deal with Juveniles. According to the act, its main objective put simply, is to help local communities by ensuring that minors avoid becoming delinquents.
In June of 1997 (as cited Frontline, 8th of May 2007) a minor was sentenced to death under felony murder law without parole though, the jury determined that the shooting was accidental. There is a typical example of the gross violation of the children’s activities as stated in the UNHCR declaration. Such violations which are lawful according to the justice system bring about the need for an overhaul of the justice system. In 1993 America witnessed a surge in crime rates of which over thirty percent were attributed to juvenile delinquents. It is a fact that the rate of crime among minors has been increasing steadily this brings about the question of introducing tougher laws. On the other hand, human activists are lobbying for change in the laws governing juvenile delinquency, for they claim the current laws are unfair to the youngsters. The question of whether the current laws should be changed and in what manner is quite challenging and should be approached carefully as it deals with several aspects of our daily life.
Need for change in the justice system
Juveniles in America are mostly involved in gang-related crimes. This explains why most cases of juvenile delinquency occur in metropolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles. The gangs which deal in such crimes as drug trafficking, arms trade money laundering, corruption, and many other forms of organized crimes, are normally led by an adult gang leader. The gang leader who seldom does the dirt job is responsible for organizing and controlling the gang to ensure the gang’s progress.
A century ago, the juvenile justice system was created with the sole aim of protecting the child and paving the way for his development into the youth. It originally did this by trying to correct them in a way that was non-confrontational. Over time the system has evolved and the original goals are no longer the driving force behind the reforms. The line between the definition of an adult and that of the youth is so thin, that the minor could easily be prosecuted under adults laws. The current laws are based on the following five principles; first, the legislations are made in such a way that the thought of breaking them is a nightmare.
This is done by making the law harsh in order to deter possible offenders from the thought of engaging in criminal-like activities, but the net effect is that the laws have become so harsh that they border violation of basic human rights let alone children. The second principle is to protect citizens against criminals. This is the basic reason for the creation of criminal laws in any civilized society, the law under this principle oppresses those who commit crimes accidentally for ignorance, and in this case, the accident is no defense for a crime. Thus unlucky juveniles end up wasting lots of valuable time in correctional facilities just because of bad karma. Thirdly the laws are created to seem fair to both the offender the victim and the community, this is so in theory but in practice things are different. Contrary to common belief American juvenile laws are based so much on ‘correcting’ the offender leaving the victim feeling that no justice was done.
The community on the other side only benefits from the community service the offenders offer, the convicts more often than not come back from the correction facilities, and worse making them a hazard to society. The fourth principle is based on the proportionality of the punishment to the offense and the need to make the offender accountable for their crimes. This principle is so overrated as it severely punishes the doers of action but is lenient to the instigators of the crime. Minors in gangs are normally used for the dirty jobs in gangs which normally involve crimes involving violence whereas their bosses who are normally behind the scenes relax on their luxury mansions as they coordinate the crimes. When charged the minors, often get harsher penalties as compared to their bosses who seldom get convicted.
The current juvenile laws have flaws in the following areas; first, though the rate of crimes involving minors has stabilized the general public is in the dark on such statistics, this has been a dent in the general public confidence in the juvenile justice system. Secondly, the number of offenses involving juveniles is still high in the law courts, this has led to overcrowding in the correctional facilities. In addition, the essence of correction has been lost since the offenders have only one hour in a week to interact with the social workers responsible for transforming.
Lastly, in some cases, juveniles from a minority race are discriminated against. For instance in the US blacks are generally treated unfairly by the enforcers of the juvenile laws as compared to their white counterparts (Tas, n.d.). This can also be blamed on the law which does not give a foolproof framework on the mechanisms by which the implementation can be consistent.
Teen courts are which are meant for the first-time offender, they are an alternative diversion to the traditional system. In the teen court system first-time teen offenders (Butts and Harrell, 1999). The courts which deal in violent crimes were started in the seventies with the main aim of ensuring the first-time offenders don’t grow up to be hardcore criminals. It is estimated that the number of teen courts has have grown by over 1300% in the past decade(Allyn & Bacon, 1999). to also ease congestion in traditional. The reason as to why they are growing quite fast lies in the fact that the jury is composed of persons of the offender’s age, though adults are also involved. The teen courts are mainly concerned with ways in which justice can be achieved without the stresses of the traditional system and in a way that the offender gets to learn from his mistakes and avoids repeating them in the future. Research has shown that convicts who pass through the teen system have a higher chance as compared to those who pass through the traditional system, this is mainly attributed to the idea of community, work which is the main form of punishment in this system, which keeps the first time offender from having to interact with hardcore criminals in correctional facilities as is the case in the traditional juvenile system.
Only eight countries have executed juveniles, the US included since 1990 Kennedy writes and since then they have abolished such punishment for juveniles or public disapproved of capital punishment, it is quite clear that the entire human race is not for the unnecessary slaughter of its future generation. (The Christian science monitor, 2008).
The US supreme court in 2005, said the death penalty for juvenile offenders was inhuman and thus declared it unlawful (Death Penalty Info Center, June 2008). This was a positive development injustice because it now brings about the aspect of respect for human life in the US justice system.
There is an urgent need for the federal and state governments to review the laws governing juvenile delinquency, and the entire correctional system. the law as it is now focuses mostly on punishment rather than correction which shouldn’t be the case. There are a number of issues that should be addressed clearly by the new laws. First, the question of how old a minor should be to be held accountable for their acts? what are the interventions within the law? and to what extent are these interventions valid. The second issue is what measures can be taken to prevent delinquent behavior and to what extent can they be used while they remain lawful. The third issue is a diversion, here we need to clearly define the role of the police and the prosecutor and what other options are exist from the traditional juvenile systems, and is there any evidence of their positive impact? The third issue is sanctioning. Do we need to ask ourselves what amount of fines should be charged? What other methods of sanctioning exist such as community service? Does the justice system support restorative justice and if not what should be done about it? At what age and should a minor be liable to imprisonment and what time should they serve? Is there an avenue for a combination of sanctions and how should it be done? What are the ways through which the supervision programs can be made more intensive? The fourth issue is innovation. we need to find out what other innovative options exist and their effectiveness. There is a need to promote education among the teens as most of them engaging in delinquent acts are either school dropouts or illiterate. These issues if properly addressed will give the US a good Juvenile System that will properly address the deficiencies of the current system.
Allyn&Bacon(1999) Juvenile Issues. 2008. Web.
Butts &Harell(1999) Drum. 2008. Web.
Death Penalty Info center(2008)Juveniles and the Death Penalty. Web.
Frontline(2007)when kids get life. Web.
Hutchison encyclopedia(2008)Juvenile Delinquency. Web.
Office of UNHCR,(1959) Declaration of the rights of a child. 2008. Web.
Moak C. S & Hutchinson W(n.d)Legal Change In Juvenile Justice. 2008. Web.
Povisky W.(2005)Teen court: Does it reduce recivindism. Web.
Tas J. J. (nd)Improving juvenile justice. 2008. Web.
The Christian Science Monitor (2008) Juvenile death penalty abolished. Web.