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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Persuasive Essay on Abolishing the Juvenile Justice System

Persuasive Essay on Abolishing the Juvenile Justice System


Our society takes into account the inherent differences between a juvenile offender and an adult offender.  Because of these differences between an adult and a minor, the society has provided for two different systems of their punishment: The Juvenile Justice System and the Criminal Justice System.  The principles of the two systems are essentially different.  This essay seeks to focus on the article of Barry C. Feld entitled “Abolish the juvenile court: youthfulness, criminal responsibility, and sentencing policy.” 
 The Juvenile Justice System is based on the principle of “parens patriae” or the parent or the guardian of its people is responsible for the welfare of its people.  Under this principle, the state has the duty to pass laws designed to protect and care for the children within its jurisdiction. The objective is to prevent these children from further committing delinquent acts, to rehabilitate them and to restore them to mainstream society.  It must continue to develop policies and programs to address the needs of the youth and protect them from risks they are exposed to. 
Barry C. Feld however thinks that the juvenile courts are not serving their purpose.  He stressed that the juvenile courts should instead be abolished and integrated into the traditional criminal court system.  He discussed several reasons why he thinks juvenile courts should be abolished.  The first reason is the legislative changes.  According to Feld, legislatures criticisms against juvenile courts for its failure to realize its benevolent and “child saving” purpose have resulted to the enactment of laws that weakened the power of the juvenile courts over the juvenile offenders (Barry C. Feld, 2007, p.1).   Because of criticisms that juvenile courts treated non-criminal offenders indiscriminately like criminal delinquents, laws were passed removing the jurisdiction of these juvenile courts over these statutory offenses.
Another reason is the judicial changes that modified juvenile court’s jurisdiction, purpose and procedure in handling juvenile cases.  One such example is the judicial waiver.  In judicial waiver, the state or the prosecution files a motion before the juvenile court to transfer jurisdiction from juvenile courts to criminal court.  It is the judge who determines whether the transfer should take effect based on the judge’s sole discretion, or because certain well-defined criteria have been met or upon a probable cause determination for an offense for which the state has deemed that the waiver is appropriate.  Statistics shows that for three decades the number of cases transferred to adult courts by judicial waiver has fluctuated.  In another article, a statistics show that between 1971 to 1981, national juvenile transfers by judicial waiver has increased from less than 1% to 5% but by 1985 has declined to 1.4% in total cases.  (Kelly M. Angel, 2002, p. 132) 
Aside from the legislative and judicial changes, administrative changes have also weakened the power of the judicial courts. According to Feld, the “jurisprudential shifts from offender from offender to the offense and from treatment to punishment that inspire changes in waiver policies increasingly affect the sentences that juvenile court judges impose on serious delinquent offenders as well.” (Feld, p.4) Because of the excessive emphasis on the kind of punishment to be imposed against juvenile offenders, juvenile courts have lost sight of whether the procedural safeguards of due process have been observed or whether there was enough proof of guilt against the juvenile offender. 
According to Feld, these changes in legislative, judicial and administrative aspects have informally transformed juvenile courts from its mission of promotion of general welfare to a “deficient second-rate criminal court.”  What is worse is that these changes have been made without the offenders being entitled to due process nor rehabilitation and positive treatment.  In effect, juvenile offenders are being put to trial under circumstances which even adult offenders would not be tried.  Juveniles, according to Feld, are being placed in a more disadvantageous position compared to the adult offenders. 
I disagree with Feld’s ideas.  Firstly, I would like to think that legislations and statutes made by our legislatures do not just come out of vacuum.  Before any bill is signed into a law it passes through a legislative process in the upper and the lower house of Congress.  As such it bears the presumption that it is constitutional and the wisdom behind it should not be questioned.  The same is true in cases of judicial waivers where judges in the juvenile courts, acting in the exercise of their discretion, waive their jurisdiction over a juvenile offense and transfer the hearing of a case to adult courts.  Their wisdom should also not be questioned.  As a matter of constitutional delegation of powers, they are supreme within their own sphere such that the other branch of government though co-equal cannot interfere with the manner they perform their functions, unless there is a clear abuse of discretion.  It is my opinion that there is no abuse of discretion here.    
I think if we are to follow Feld’s suggestions, there may come a time when a juvenile may be sentenced to life imprisonment or for capital punishment for a crime they committed during the age of minority.  There will come a time when more children will be placed behind bars interacting with hardened criminals.  Instead of the policy of rehabilitation, the policy punishment will be emphasized.  They will only be assaulted and raped if they will be placed inside prison cells together with adult offenders.  I do not see any beneficial effect this would bring to the juvenile offenders. 
            There are many apprehensions about the increasing number of juvenile offenders being prosecuted as an adult in criminal courts and being placed in the same confinement as adults  Among the arguments raised are that it fails to address the special needs of the minors who at that tender age needs the protection and help of the society.  Also, it argued that transferring jurisdiction to criminal courts does not equip the minors of any learning necessary to reenter the communities.  Another argument is that the transfer fails to take into account the notion that violence is a learned behavior.  It must be stressed that most of the time these juvenile offenders were also victims of abuse or neglect. 
            Though the wisdom of the practice of transferring juvenile courts to criminal court is being questioned, there is no question about the constitutionality of these transfers.  Courts of different states have upheld the constitutionality of these transfers.  In the case of State v. Green (No. COA95-936), the North Caroline Court of Appeals recognized constitutionality of the transfer of juvenile cases of criminal courts.  It ruled that the decision to transfer a juvenile's case to criminal court lies solely within the discretion of the district court judge and, in making this decision, district court judges need only state the reasons for the transfer and need not make findings of fact to support the conclusion that the needs of the juvenile or the best interests of the State would be served by the transfer.
            In the case entitled In Re : J.L.W., No. COA99-283, the court likewise recognized the constitutionality of juvenile transfers.  It ruled that no constitutional right is violated so long as the judge considers that that the transfer meets the needs of the juvenile or serves the best interest of the State.  However, the juvenile court’s transfer order to a criminal court was vacated in this case and remanded to the juvenile court since the juvenile court's transfer order does not reflect that consideration was given to the needs of the juvenile, to his rehabilitative potential, and to the family support he receives.
            Instead of debating as to which is approach is more effective, it should be better for the state to address the root cause of the problem. The state should focus more on the means of preventing these youth from committing various crimes.  Studies show that the criminal behavior of a person can be to the kind of environment he is accustomed to.  Peer pressure, alcohol, drugs are matters which should be effectively regulated by the state so as to effectively control crime.

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2 comments:

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