Juvenile Justice

The Juvenile Justice System – Is it Working?

The American juvenile justice system was designed over 100 years ago to reform kids who were found guilty of minor crimes such as petty theft and truancy. Today, the system is becoming overwhelmed by crimes of violence. Stealing and skipping school have been replaced by rape and murder. The juvenile justice system was never meant to deal with these kinds of problems.
Juvenile delinquency describes the antisocial behavior of many different types of youth who are in trouble, or who are on the brink of trouble with the law. In general terms juvenile delinquency means different things to different people. By law, a juvenile delinquent is a person under the age of eighteen who is found guilty in a court of law for committing some sort of crime.
Children are not just born delinquents; they are products of circumstances, chance, culture and environment. A youth named a delinquent by circumstance and chance is a youth who has been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Usually, the juvenile who commits a delinquent act by chance is a part of a gang that takes part in unlawful behavior. Most juveniles however become delinquents because of the culture and environment that surrounds them. Juveniles who are in an area of violence and crime learn to defy authority and engage in crime because it is the acceptable thing to do.
The juvenile justice system originated around 1819, and on July 1, 1899 the first juvenile court in the United States was set up in Cook County, Illinois. It represented a dramatic change in the way the criminal justice system and all of the American society viewed criminally involved youth. The new court was founded on the principle of “parens patriae”, the idea that children should not be treated as criminals, but as wards of the state.
Parens patrae tried to show that children were not fully responsible for their conduct and could be rehabilitated. It tried to explain the view that children were fully responsible for their conduct and were able to be rehabilitated. Parens patraie remains the base of the juvenile justice system across the country. Then, like now, juvenile court was designed more to protect the child than to punish bad behavior.
Most people feel that, until recently, the juvenile justice system served our country and our children very well. Beginning in the 1970’s, the nature of juvenile crime became different. Juvenile crime grew more common and more violent, and the system was not prepared.
The biggest problem facing law enforcement today may be the very structure of the juvenile justice system. A system that neither punishes nor rehabilitates is useless. Examples of juvenile justice system failures are found everywhere throughout the United States.
In Rhode Island, Craig Price, age fifteen, deliberately killed a mother and her two young daughters. Yet, this wasn’t his first offense, nor his first murder. Two years earlier he had murdered another woman. He also had a long record of assaults, burglaries, and other crimes.
In Chicago, two of the neighborhood’s toughest bullies lured a five year old boy and his eight year old brother up to an empty fourteenth floor apartment. While up there one of the bullies decided to dangle the helpless five year old out the window by his feet. As the eight year old tried to help his younger brother, the bully dropped him, and he plunged fourteen floors to his death. The bullies, who were both ten years old, are not even going to juvenile prison. Journalist Richard Lacayo calls these kids “predator juveniles” (Lacayo 60), because they steal the life of others.
Closer to home, the system is just as corrupt. A sixteen year old boy from Somerville has been charged with killing his next door neighbor, his best friends\' mother. According to police the boy was infatuated with her, and before killing her, he beat her and then stabbed her seventy-two times.
Violent juvenile crime is increasing at twice the rate of violent crimes made by adults. By the year 2005, the number of teenagers between ages fourteen and seventeen will grow by twenty-three percent. How can this epidemic of violence among our young people be controlled?