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The Need and Importance of the Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile justice refers to an area of criminal law that is applied to individuals who have not attained the age of being held responsible for criminal acts. Many states have stated the age for criminal culpability to be 18 years. In other words, juvenile justice systems refer to courts that have special authorities to try and pass sentences for crimes committed by adolescents or children who have not reached the age of majority. There has been much discussion over whether juvenile justice systems should focus on rehabilitation or punishment. Historically, the focus of juvenile justice system has shifted from punishment to rehabilitation and back again. This shifts or movements in the focus seem to occur based more on the response of the community to juvenile criminals rather than on how efficient either one of these strategies work. According to Caplow & Simon (1990), rehabilitation needs to be a major emphasis of juvenile justice system. On the other hand, Elrod & Ryder (2011) argued that punishment should not be ended all together. This research paper will explore the various roles played by the juvenile criminal justice in alleviating crimes.


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I.       Rehabilitation

The first major responsibility of the juvenile criminal justice is to rehabilitate adolescent deliquescent. Feld (1993) defined rehabilitation as therapies and programs, which allow a juvenile criminal to return to the society as a contributing individual. Some of the programs offered by the juvenile criminal justice to assist in rehabilitation include education, behavior modification therapies, counseling and work programs. According to Ferdinand (2000), every program focuses on correcting a certain area that requires changing or improvement. Rehabilitation has various benefits to the criminal justice systems. It can reduce the time spent in incarceration, address some of the needs of the adolescent criminals, and reduce the costs related to imprisoning youths. Most importantly, juvenile criminal justice system allows adolescent criminals to become productive citizens of a country. Various researches suggest that criminal justice system, like any other justice system, should encourage rehabilitation more than punishment. According to Grisso (2008), emphasizing on punishment results in more repeat crimes and, therefore, ultimately deprives the society and the offender of their potential. The idea behind encouraging rehabilitation is that criminals being punished are not essentially learning to return to the society as its useful members. 

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According to Hartjen (2000), the juvenile justice system has a role to play in offering the adolescent deliquescent a chance to learn about their behaviors. In addition, the justice system has to inform criminals how their behaviors affect the society and how they can transform their behaviors. The juvenile criminal system performs this role through rehabilitation programs. In this way, juvenile criminals can reenter the society as useful members upon completing these rehabilitation programs and therapies. Loeber, Burke, & Lahey (2002) argued that without rehabilitation, many adolescent criminals would grow into adulthood with their delinquent behaviors. Apparently, rehabilitation is beneficial to these young offenders.

A.     The Importance of Rehabilitation

It is imperative to understand why rehabilitation is the focus of the juvenile justice system. It is also necessary to understand how rehabilitation affects court processes, law enforcement, corrections, probations, intervention programs and community services. Effective rehabilitation can affect the abovementioned areas by reducing the workload associated with these programs. Since offenders who complete rehabilitation programs are less likely to re-offend, law enforcement can concentrate more on present crimes. According to Sickmund, (2003), young offenders who have completed rehabilitation programs or are in rehabilitation are less likely to intensify the caseload in the juvenile courts. Additionally, young offenders on probation might have their probation decreased when they successfully complete rehabilitation programs. In this regard, Melton (2007) pointed out that rehabilitation of the young offenders decreases the burden in the corrections system since it is likely to decrease the number of juveniles imprisoned.

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Another primary advantage of rehabilitation is that it addresses the offender’s needs. Rehabilitation can enable the customization of needs. For instance, if an offender needs fewer services, fewer services can be provided. On the other hand, if an offender needs more services, the services can be increased. Some studies have also pointed out that rehabilitation costs extremely less than imprisonment. The costs of imprisonments are in tens of thousands, whereas the cost of rehabilitation is averagely ten thousand dollars per a child annually. Juvenile rehabilitation also reduces the rate of recidivism.

B.     Juvenile Rehabilitation Vs. Punishment

For many years, there has been a debate concerning the effectiveness of these two techniques in fighting juvenile crimes. Some scholars have strongly pointed out that rehabilitation should be the major focus of the juvenile justice system. Sickmund (2003) defined punishment as a consequence for inappropriate behavior. Punishments have been used for many centuries as a way of reducing crimes, though presently the justice system seems to integrate both punishment and rehabilitation. This is because punishment without rehabilitation is likely to encourage criminals to re-offend. In order for one to comprehend why rehabilitation should be the major focus, it is important to understand why punishment should not be the focus of juvenile justice system.

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According to Feld (1993), punishment is meant to be unpleasant. The unpleasant nature of punishment acts as a deterrent to unacceptable behavior. The critics of punishment as a crime deterrent have pointed out that it does not address mental or social process, which might significantly contribute to crimes. According to Ferdinand (2000), punishment is not an appropriate tool for preventing crimes because it does not address the reason why an offender committed an offense. Studies conducted by Melton (2007) cite that about 96 per cent of young offenders re-offend after being released from custody. According to Pfeiffer (1998), these young criminals re-offend because of being improperly rehabilitated. Frequently, the reasons why these offenders committed a crime are not addressed by the crime prevention methods used in the juvenile justice systems.

II.       Juveniles with Mental Disorders

Juvenile justice system deals with young offenders suffering from mental disorders. As such, the justice system is obligated to respond to adolescent offenders with mental disorders. Research and logic suggest that the role of the justice system would be significant, though much more limited and focused than if it was to solely offer mental health services to adolescent offenders in custody. In addition, the key roles would be slightly different at different phases in juvenile justice processing.

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A.     Identification and Diversion of Community Mental Health Services

The arrest and referral of young offender to the juvenile court is usually the first phase of juvenile justice processing. Some young offenders, once arrested, are directly placed in pretrial detention facility, whereas others remain at home, though they are ordered to present themselves for intake interviews. In both cases, intake probation officers need to determine whether the offender should continue with the trial or whether the case should be dealt with more informally. Additionally, some young offenders await trial while in pretrial detention, whereas other do not.

At this stage, the primary role of the juvenile justice system is to identify offenders suffering from mental disorders who can be diverted to the community, where treatment services are based, instead of remaining in pretrial detention. This diversion is frequently feasible since some offenders are initially referred to juvenile detention centers for petty crimes. If the intake probation officers can identify the mental problems of these offenders, then many offenders can be diverted from the formal juvenile justice process. Significant evidence suggests that effective and systematic diversion programs considerably reduce the number of juvenile in pretrial detention in many communities.

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a.      Screening

Diversion programs require the identification of young offenders with mental problems. This, in turn, requires the deployment of the screening technique after the arrest of the offender by the police. Screening is important for two significant purposes. The first one is to determine the impending risk of harm to other offenders or self. Some offenders need the structure of pretrial detention to offer temporary protection for them. The second purpose of screening is to identify offenders with suicidal thoughts and anxiety among others, which might need immediate attention.

Although the soundness of screening techniques has been well studied, little is known concerning whether screening assists in improving the outcomes for adolescent offenders with mental disorders. For instance, less is known concerning whether mental health screening diverts disproportionately youths of different races or ethnicities to mental health services rather than juvenile justice processing. According to Grisso (2008), screening may reduce these disparities if it reduces errors related to discretionary decisions. Screening might also increase disparities if the pervasiveness of mental problems differs for different ethnic or racial groups of young offenders referred to the juvenile justice processing.

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B.     Provision of Emergency Health Services in Pretrial Detention

Juvenile detention centers have an obligation concerning the young offenders in their custody during the pretrial phase of juvenile justice processing. However, these centers have limited treatment obligations. For instance, these centers cannot offer long-term treatment services such as treatments designed to reduce delinquency. This is because they are limited in their authority to perform such interventions until it has established its prerogative over the offender, or it has found the juvenile delinquent after a court hearing on the evidence. Juvenile detention centers are obligated to fulfill the immediate needs of offenders in temporary custody. These needs include mental health needs that might pose harm to the offender if not addressed immediately.

Therefore, all juvenile detention centers have the ability to react to mental health emergencies like suicide risks that pose a threat to the youth or others. However, having this ability does not imply that mental health practitioners will always have to be on staff. Detention facilities would need clear staff procedures to respond to the emergency mental health needs of these young offenders.

Studies have cited that approximately 15 to 30 per cent of young offenders in detention facilities receive treatment while in detention despite the high pervasiveness of mental disorders. It is extremely difficult to apply these findings to planning or policymaking. According to Feld (1993), the shortfall is even greater if one assumes that not every young offender with mental problems might require immediate treatment that can only be offered outside detention facilities. However, according to Feld (1993), this assumption might be faulty since many adolescent offenders with mental problems might not require immediate treatment.

C.     Assessment for Dispositional Treatment Planning

When young offenders are proved delinquent, courts proceed to determine the most appropriate placement for managing their rehabilitation. Similar to detention settings, screening at this stage involves identifying mental health problems, though the purpose is not to identify offenders who require immediate intervention. Instead, screening at this stage identifies offenders whose rehabilitation programs should incorporate long-term mental health treatment.

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The information offered by the screening process is offered to the judges by trained probation officers to help them in collecting data concerning the needs of the offenders. Such needs include mental health problems. However, some young offenders need evaluations by clinical practitioners as a continuation to probation, though less research has analyzed the effectiveness and efficiency of these evaluations in offering relevant data to the courts.

Biblical Perspective of Juvenile Crime

The bible holds various views concerning juvenile delinquency. In fact, the scriptures are against not only juvenile offenses but also adult crimes. There is no instance in the Bible that advocates for crime. The evidence of juveniles being involved in criminal cases can be found in both non-legal and legal texts. Exodus 21: 15 (New American Standard Bible, NAS) mentions, “He who strikes his father or mother shall certainly be executed.” In this biblical formulation, the offense is extended to include parents. This shows the concern from both father and mother. The punishment stated by the Bible is even more severe. Presently, it is most likely that these forms of punishment were once put to practice in the ancient Near East. Isaiah 61:8 (New American Standard Bible, NAS) also holds a view that opposes not only adult crime and but also juvenile crimes: “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness, I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.” The Bible also encourages youths to shun away from crimes. For instance, in Proverbs 15: 20 (New American Standard Bible, NAS), the Bible cites that a wise son makes his father glad, but a foolish one despises his mother. This is in agreement with wisdom literature that warns against disobedience and crime activities. Proverbs 28: 24 (New American Standard Bible, NAS) states that one who robs his father or mother and says; ‘there is no harm in it’ is an associate of murderers.

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There are various views concerning juvenile crimes. The Bible condemns also sorts of crimes including those committed by juveniles. Rehabilitation needs to be a major emphasis of juvenile justice system. The major responsibility of the juvenile criminal justice is to rehabilitate adolescent deliquescent. Juvenile justice system has a role to play in offering the adolescent deliquescent a chance to learn about their behaviors. Effective rehabilitation reduces the workload associated with these programs. Juvenile justice system deals with young offenders suffering from mental disorders. As such, the justice system is obligated to respond to adolescent offenders with mental disorders.



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