The juvenile justice system deals with cases of young people under the age of 18 who have troubles with the law. This system applies for children who actually understand the difference between right and wrong, thus are liable for conviction to suffer for the full consequences of the committed crime. These consequences may include death in a capital crime. Before reforms in the US took place concerning youth offenders, children as young as seven years old were accused of wrong acts and were imprisoned with adults. The first juvenile house of reform in the US was the House of Refuge in New York, which was opened in 1924. This reform aimed at housing juvenile offenders in a separate facility instead of being imprisoned with adult offenders. Emerging issues regarding child development in the 18th and 19th centuries saw reformers across the whole state champion for measures of not punishing youthful offenders like adults rather understand the importance of rehabilitating them.
Difference between Juvenile Courts and Adult Courts
The primary difference between juvenile courts and adult courts was that the juvenile courts were civil in nature as opposed to adult courts which were criminal in nature. Being convicted under the civil proceedings accrues the benefit that the court majorly focuses on the youth rather than focusing on the alleged offence. Thus the civil proceeding has alternatives aimed at rehabilitating the youth which is under conviction. The juvenile civil courts are given the authority to make decisions aimed at benefiting the youth much as a parent would treat their children treated. Therefore, the juvenile justice system strongly holds on the doctrine of “parents patriae” notwithstanding its existence also in institutions.
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The juvenile court system did not have constitutional legal rights until the late 1960’s. Its legalization was achieved in 1967 during the US Supreme court’s decision in In re Gault. In that case, the Supreme Court came to a decision that although juvenile courts were in line with civil proceedings, those juveniles subjected to such proceedings faced a potential loss of the rights of liberty.
Constitutional Rights of a Juvenile Offender
The Supreme Court reached a decision that all youth offenders involved in juvenile court proceedings and who faced possible confinement in a court of law were entitled to certain constitutional rights. The juvenile is entitled to receive a notification of the charges pending and also has the right to obtain a legal counsel. The right to confrontation and cross-examination is also entitled to any young offender. The young offender should also be given the privilege against self-incrimination. He or she has a right to receive a transcript of the proceedings of the charges and has the right to have an appellate court review of the lower court’s decision (Kristin, 2009).
Provisions of the Juvenile Acts
Following the remarks of the In re Gault decision, the U.S Congress passed the Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968. The provisions of the act stipulated that all states should develop well-designed plans and measures to address and curb effectively juvenile delinquency in the society so as to receive Federal funding. Remarkable follow up saw that the Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974. This act was a platform to add further protections for the youth offenders in the juvenile justice system in the states.
The 1974 Act required that young offenders should have sight and sound separation entities from their counterparts’ adult offenders. This was aimed to create enhanced separation hence no contact between the two groups. It also stipulated that youths to confess offenses such as curfew, possession of alcohol and even truancy could not be put under a juvenile detention or adult detention facility. The act also had provisions that no youth offender could be detained in adult jails not unless certain requirements were met. It also stipulated that the United States should create plans aimed at minimizing the number of minority youths being held under the juvenile justice system. With the amendment of the Act, it required the creation of the Office of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Today it is the US Department of Justice and the National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency (John, Jones & Jennifer, 2009).
Juvenile justice mostly focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment of the young offenders. The US supreme court rejected the life without parole (LWOP) for juvenile offenders in 2012. The court came to the decision that LWOP is cruel and unusual punishment to any young offender. These juvenile offenders were treated as adults in the prosecution process. A major concern lies in the areas of juveniles and mental health areas.
Waiving of a Juvenile Case to an Adult Court
When a judge waives the protection provided by the juvenile court, the juvenile cases are transferred to adult criminal court through the waiver process. Such a waiver process occurs when the cases involve more serious crimes or the minors have been involved into a series of crimes. A court may grant a waiver petition and transfer a juvenile case to adult court when the minor is older and the past rehabilitation efforts of the juvenile system have been unsuccessful. Trial of a juvenile in an adult court has the disadvantage that the juvenile is more subjected to a potential severe sentence and also there is the possibility of serving a longer time in an adult correctional facility. The juvenile is also subject to serving time in an adult jail or prison as opposed to serving in the juvenile detention centers. A conviction in an adult criminal court carries more social stigma than a juvenile court does.
Juvenile Court Sentencing Options
Juvenile courts have different sentencing disposition orders that they impose on juveniles or young offenders who have violated criminal laws. The disposition order may be incarceration and non-carceration. Incarceration involves imposition of a penalty either through home confinement, placement with a different observer other than the parent or guardian. It may also be in a juvenile detention facility or secured juvenile facilities. Probation may also take place after the juvenile hall. Juvenile and adult jail may occur when the judge sends the offender to a juvenile facility and then orders for a transfer to an adult facility once the juvenile reaches the age of the majority (Michael, 2010).
A non-incarceration disposition order includes verbal warning, imposition of fines, counseling process, community service, electronic monitoring and probation. Probation involves supervision in which the freedom of the minor and their activities are limited. Thus, it is commonly referred to as the workhouse of the juvenile justice system. A juvenile assigns a probation officer who monitors the compliance of the youth with the disposition orders of the court. The juvenile is required to meet with the officer periodically. The parents or guardians of the juvenile must report to the officer any probation violation of the juvenile. In case the juvenile is suspected of violating a probation condition, the officer notifies the court by filling a violation probation notice. If the judge indeed confirms that the minor violated the terms of the probation, the court can revoke the probation option and impose a harsher sentence to the offender.
The above discussion clearly elaborates on juvenile justice system. It focuses keenly on the history of the juvenile system, the differentiating factors between a juvenile civil court and an adult court. The editorial also outlines the constitutional provision of any juvenile offender and the provision of the acts of the justice system. It also informs about the juvenile sentencing options which may be used in a juvenile court.