Juvenile Justice Reform and Its Impact

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We often look past the juvenile as a person, and tend to look more so at his or her crimes. We often base the juvenile on his or her crimes without really taking a deeper look into their lives, or what may have led them to a criminal life. The following paper will discuss reforming the juvenile justice system. It will advocate for less harsh sentencing and discuss different paths to take to reform the juvenile system as well as different influencers of crime on the juvenile, some of which may have led the juvenile to the crime or the confession of the crime.

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The problem with the juvenile justice system now, is that it fails to look at the child as a whole, and chooses to focus more on the crime that has been committed. Of course, the crime committed is a very important aspect to look at, but to understand the crime itself, we much first look to understanding the one who committed the crime. If we can do this, we can better understand how to punish or put into restorative justice, rather than jumping to the harshest punishment possible. 

To reform the juvenile justice system, I feel that we need to focus on less harsh punishments and more on family interaction and the understanding of how the brain of the juvenile thinks and works. The justice system needs to take it step by step and try to get the whole picture of the child, not just their crime. Justice systems need to look at the brain of the child, understand their home lives, and allow for the child to provide an explanation to their crime. Harsher punishments are setting the child up to live a life that is full of anger and resentment for the justice system. We have adults now who are still serving time for crimes they committed when they were a child, and they should be free.

The juvenile justice system is a policy that over the course of the twentieth century has been slowly transformed and focused on the transformation of young offenders. “In the late nineteenth century, most youth were tried and punished as adults…treated as a wise and merciful father would treat and handle his own child (Scott and Steinburn, 2008). According to Scott and Steinburg, the rehabilitation of the juvenile seemed to thrive during the first half of the twentieth century, but today lawmakers appear to be having alternative thoughts about if the age and immaturity of the juvenile in the justice system should be integrated or ignored in the juvenile’s case. Lawmakers seem not to have a full understanding and comprehension of how to integrate age and immaturity in to sentencing.

According to the article, The Contradictions of Juvenile Crime & Punishment, “the juvenile corrections often remain harsh, a sign of both cynicism about rehabilitation and institution self-interest as well as neglect (Fagan, 2010).” Within the juvenile justice system, young ones are being sent to adult correction facilities, risking their personal safety. Placing the youth in adult corrections not only risks their physical safety, but puts a strain on their mentality as well. “Placing youths in adult prisons comes at a cost: they are less likely to receive educational services and other essential services, they are more likely to be victims of physical violence, and manifest a variety of psychological symptoms (Fagan, 2010).”

These educational programs and essential services that lack in adult corrections are essential to the juvenile, and their futures. Without these, we are setting them up for ultimate failure when trying to place them back into society. Instead of placing these juveniles in with adults and risking their safety, we should focus on more restorative programs that allow for reformation of the individual. In the same article, Fagan states, “We believe deeply in child saving but are quick to expose violent children to the harshest punishments.

Based on the above, juveniles don’t really understand and think through their actions of the crime before they commit it. Thus, leading to the reasoning for punishments of juveniles to be less harsh. Juveniles are unable to reason with themselves as an adult would, but are often tried as adults based on the severity of their crimes.

According to Mayzer, Bradley, Rusinko, and Ertelt, approximately 200,000 juveniles are transferred to adult court and correctional facilities each year. The main idea of the article is to focus on the juvenile’s ability to withstand a trial as an adult, focusing specifically on brain development and cognitive skills. Based on the previous articles, it was easy to hypothesize that brain development would play a large role in the ability to withstand adult trials, and that the juvenile would be unable to function and think as thoroughly and psychologically as an adult in the same situation would. That hypothesis would be correct. “In the United States, to be considered competent to stand trial in a criminal court, a defendant must be capable of understanding the charges against him or her and be able to consult with an attorney, and understand an participate in legal proceedings (Mayzer, Bradley, Rukink, and Ertelt, 2009).

If the juvenile is not able to regulate their behavior, is overly sensitive to influences, and less able to make informed decisions, then what are we doing for them by assuming they are able to withstand court and trial as an adult or even go into an adult facility? We should focus on understanding the child and their developmental aspects before we charge them as an adult, or even think about charging them as an adult.

There are several other aspects that relate to the brain development and immaturity of the juvenile that should be taken into consideration when moving to place them in criminal courts and trying them as adults. According to multiple sources, maturity plays a huge role in the development of the juvenile. “Advances in neuropsychological research have produced a new body of knowledge showing that teen brains remain immature through early adulthood (The American Prospect, 2005). 

While the juvenile may seem mature based on the crime they have committed, research would suggest otherwise. According to the same article, “Experimental evidence and case autopsies show that adolescents may be prone to false confessions owing to their immaturity and collateral factors such as their suggestibility and vulnerability to coercion… adolescents are overrepresented among defendants who give false confessions during police investigation.”

Immaturity seems to play a large role in the development of the juvenile and tends to be a key factor that goes unnoticed and undermined during criminal investigations and trials. There are many studies that suggest that juveniles are more likely to say that something happened, even when it really didn’t specifically based on the suggestion of events. Although the justice system and police may not intentionally suggest during questioning, it happens. 

When the juvenile focuses in on the question and the events that supposedly happened based on the questions, their brains begin to believe that it actually happened, leading to false confession. “With respect to the phenomenon of falsely confessing to a crime one did not commit, some individuals may be more vulnerable to distrusting their own recollections and accepting others’ suggestions” (Mayzer, Bradley, Rusinko, and Ertelt, 2009).

To focus in on the reformation of the juvenile justice system in the sense on questioning, false confessions, and immaturity. The justice system should be very aware of the juvenile brain and how it works along with the understanding of how the juvenile can focus in on the suggestion more than the actual truth. Justice systems should be knowledgeable of the age group they are questioning, and be sure not to lead with anything that may suggest otherwise of that, that actually happened.

Lastly, we should focus on involving the families in the restorative process of juveniles. According to several articles, having family involvement in the restorative process is more likely to be influential than if they were not involved. “A positive family experience is a central feature of positive youth development, even for system-involved youth. The juvenile justice system has the opportunity and responsibility to encourage family involvement whenever possible, including interactions with law enforcement, court proceedings, service delivery, intervention, and reintegration (2017). Therefore, making family involvement, even in the slightest, highly impactful and important to the development and success of the juvenile in the justice system.

To look toward the future of juvenile justice reformation there are several things we should focus on. We should, as a public, be caring of those in the juvenile justice system and be open to positive rehabilitative procedures. We as a public, should make sentencing recommendations while taking every aspect of the juvenile into account, family, friends, crime, age, immaturity, etc. “While the law has moved toward increasing the incarceration of younger teens, social and biological evidence suggests moving in the other direction (Fagan, 2010). Some alternatives to immediate sentencing we should take include, collaborative leadership, detention alternatives, trauma screening, positive youth justice, family engagement, and many more (2017). There are several measures that can be taken when looking to reform the juvenile justice system while focusing on the future success of the child as well.

To make this reformation happen, we would need to come up with a bill. We could use something as simple as “Juvenile Reformation Based Upon Developmental Aspects.” After we have come up with this bill, we would want to advocate for it and inform the public of the positive reaction that would come from this bill becoming a law. The public and lawmakers would understand the development of the juvenile and adolescent, restorative processes that would be advocated for, and how we would go about reforming the juvenile system as well as its criminals. The bill would then go to the House of Representatives for a vote. 

If the House then votes for the bill to become a law, it goes to Senate. Once in senate, it then goes to the White House for the President to decide if it will become a law. Understanding that the president has the right to veto the law, we want to make sure that we have provided ample information as to why juvenile justice reform and the steps it takes for this reform to happen should be taken into consideration. Being educated and able to provide facts on our platform will allow for a smoother process.

In conclusion, the juvenile justice system needs reforming, specifically focusing on less harsh punishments. To do this, we need to be educated. We need to be educated on the juvenile brain and the things it is and is not able to comprehend. We should be educated on how suggestion may lead to false confessions and be understanding of how we could better question our juvenile criminals. Lastly, we should include the families in the restorative process, and if the family is unable, we should provide some type of emotional support system for the juvenile. If we take these simple steps, we are on the road to a great reformation, where understanding the juvenile and how they function as a person is more important that the crime they commit. Of course, the crime is still very important, but we should aim first to know the juvenile, and then to know their crime.

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