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The United States has one of the best criminal justice systems in the world but it is not immune to contemporary issues. The issue addressed in this paper is the high rate of juvenile delinquency. Juvenile Delinquency refers to the involvement of an individual in crime before they attain the majority age. Common crimes include gun handling, theft, instigation or even murder. Despite juveniles being well protected by the law, the way they are handled by the affiliated institutions, example police department, courts, prisons and parole office, presents a jargon. Finding the best way to mould useful individuals out of minor criminals is a difficult task that requires keen inquiry and conversation to come up with evidence-based recommendations.
In a population report published by US Department of Commerce in 2006, an approximate of 70 million kids are of the age 18 and below, this is 25 percent of the US population as a whole. The number is projected to increase by 10 million in 2020. The population of children depicts a clear picture of the issues affecting them and particularly those who are the risk of falling into the juvenile justice system. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has contributed to the issue by reporting that 1.5 million youths under the age of 18 are put behind bars for both minor and major crime. To make the situation even worse, more than 700,000 youth are part of different street gangs. Research indicates that a larger number are susceptible to other risky behavior like drunk driving, carrying weapons, attempted suicide and the largest number have or are still engaging in sexual intercourse.
Whenever a juvenile is involved in a criminal act, the contentious road to justice commences immediately. Handling such an individual since arrest raises concerns among law keepers, the judiciary and child rights activists. The child is viewed as innocent until a court of law either sentences or acquits the child. The entire trial faces unending contention. Similarly, child correction facilities have been faulted as some children have reportedly left the system worse than they initially went in. In juvenile delinquency, there are several issues, according to the report on juvenile offenders and victims by Sickmund & Puzzanchera, (2014), that need serious discussion; police discretion, state of custody, trial and correction. Previous discussions came with the term ‘delinquent child’ instead of criminal. Children cannot be ‘sentenced’ anymore, rather they have to be subject to a ‘disposition’ and the aim of juvenile correctional systems is not necessarily to punish, rather to rehabilitate and restitute.
Police Discretion; when an officer of the law is confronted with a juvenile delinquent, the officer is tasked with the responsibility of deciding whether to arrest the delinquent or let him go with a warning. Before arrest, the officer can decide to help the delinquent as most of them commit crimes due to lack of parental control and care. Making that decision is entirely up to the officer at the site. Many issues affecting the youth are never realized until the child is detained or incarcerated.
State of Custody; if and after the child is arrested, the state of the police cells is another hurdle, bearing in mind that the arrested individual is a minor. Finding a juvenile detention center that is suitable for a juvenile is almost next to impossible. This in turn raises concerns with child rights activists. The harsh conditions and over-crowding in these facilities are a major concern. The minor might even fall victim to many more crimes as a means to adjust to these poor conditions in jail cells. Some of the minors are reported as to attempt suicide and experience psychiatric problems. Each year delinquent minors cycle through detention facilities while awaiting legal action. It is even reported that youths who have gone through the system are more likely to use drugs than those who have never been in the system.
Trial; a juvenile suspected of a crime has several rights just as an adult. The child has a right to legal counsel either private or a public one appointed for them by the court, the right to warning, and the right to confrontation and cross-questioning witnesses, and also the freedom against self-implication. Before 1967, children were seen as not to need these rights and the court had a right to make decisions in the best interest of children without consideration of these rights.
Correction; Imprisonment of the child after trial once proven guilty leads to the question of the type of correction, the time spent and the possibilities of parole. The overall result after correction becomes an issue of concern as they need to come of these correctional facilities as people who can lead a meaningful and respectful life afterwards. Minors who go through these facilities have been reported to come back to the community as major criminals after serving time. Dealing with the issue of the type of reforms in the facilities is a contentious issue that needs a lot of deliberation. Conditions in the facilities can also lead to a high rate of suicidal minors and psychologically disturbed children. Cases of such eventualities have been reported in the recent past and are still as rampant as before. A solution therefore needs to be found and it needs to be done as fast.
The police officer can decide to involve social services in order to help the child. The state should also intervene and assert control and supervise the juvenile before they can commit more serious crimes. The causes of criminal behavior are among them poverty, drugs, neglect and abuse, gang involvement and truancy. Before the act can happen, a police officer can take it upon himself to find the cause of the criminal act in an attempt to help the child. Understanding the cause can go a long way in preventing delinquency and establish responsibility towards the child. McCluskey and J.D (2014) agree that police discretion is important in providing assistance to the public which in this case includes juveniles. With the society evolving every day, higher rates of crimes are reported and hence a solution needs to be found fast. First step is involving the officer’s discretion during an arrest.
To solve or maybe aid the state of custody should start before the minors even get there. Prevention of delinquency should first be addressed to reduce the number of children arrested and held in these detention facilities. Vries et.al (2015) have concurred with the suggestion that the state needs to develop alternatives for detention of these minors. The concept of minimizing the use of secure detention facilities can then be implemented. This however does not mean completely eliminating these facilities but finding alternatives for those minors who do not necessarily need detention and are not a danger to themselves and the community at large. A good example is the ‘approved schools’ that are used in Kenya for minor who do not need to be detained. They are a form of a reform school for delinquent minors.
In the current times, the issue of trial of the child is held with caution as to avoid abusing some of the rights of the minors. When it comes to children, the system sometimes fall victim to discrimination as they see the children as less partisan and hence decisions are made bypassing the child and without consultation. The flow of cases in the system should be reformed to hasten the process can reduce the length of stay in custody and ensure timely and appropriate interventions as suggested by Bateman,T. &Hazel (2014). To achieve this, the court must provide leadership and collaborate with the probation, prosecution and defense team of the child. The whole system must advocate for the child and act in the best interest of the child rather than focusing on the number of successful cases in their files. The court can provide leadership by instructing the prosecutor to send plea offers simultaneously as discovery to the public defenders. This can hasten the process of trial for the child.
Youths awaiting placement and violators of probation should also not spend too much time in detention facilities. The prosecution and defense should agree on the quickest way to handle such processes. The court should also come in for minor offenders as they have the sole responsibility of determining detention. Cases like truancy, possession of alcohol, vandalism, and shoplifting and curfew violations should not result to detention in secure facilities, rather alternatives like house arrest, increased supervision, monitoring electronically and placement should be considered, (Payne-James, Beynon & Vieira, 2017). Often, children’s cases have become an issue as the parties involved do not consider the minors under trail as equals. Therefore, reform in trials needs to come from the court who are supreme in this process and cascade down to the involved parties.
A structure should also be established to assess and come up with a plan to change the policies that govern correction of the minors. The system should also be assessed and a diagnosis of the system’s problems should be provided. Sankofa et. al (2017) has insisted that the impact of the type of reforms offered in the correctional facilities should also be put under light. Improving the conditions in which the minors are confined is paramount. Routine inspection by professional individuals who will apply all protocols and standards is therefore recommended. Without persistence on these routines, the conditions in the correctional facilities continue to deteriorate. Systems that help in correcting the minor rather than punishing them are to be stressed.
The correctional facilities should have schools that provide minors a continuity in their life outside the facility. The risk of these minors going into the community without some form of routine jeopardizes the chances of fitting in after release and hence they are vulnerable to the world of crime over again. The American Correctional Association came up with principles for juvenile facilities which examine the physical essence, the clinical, educational and occupational essence of the facility, (Pearler, Terry & Adams, 2017). Persistent adherence to these standards is therefore paramount to ensure that minors in these facilities are moulded and reformed into good citizens.
When the criminal system chooses to redirect its focus to the causes of delinquency then that is the only time the whole system can be corrected. Reducing the number of youth under lock and key can help redirect more resources to providing solutions for them before they are arrested and they have to go through the system. Addressing the conditions under which the minors fall victim to delinquency should provide a better chance at confronting the system. Correction should entirely be a process of rehabilitation and restitution according to Raine, (2014). Punishment and retribution should not apply in the case of minors. Referral programs such as probation, anger management and community service should be held in high esteem. Addressing the parents or the care providers for the minor can also improve the chances of the minor staying away from crime as some of the causes are lack of parental guidance and care. Community involvement in nurturing the youth and preserving the family is an important step in preventing delinquency.
The truth is that juvenile delinquency is on the rise. While the system works to improve these conditions, the first form of change has to come from the parent. The kind of upbringing the parent offers the child matters in terms of moulding the child. Parents should be present and participant in their child’s life and be ready to deal with issues affecting that child. Establishing that nurture alone cannot ascertain 0% juvenile delinquency, mechanisms must be put in place through policies to ensure that the entire system works in the best interests of the minors who fall victim of delinquency regardless of the nature of delinquency.
To successfully address the issue of juvenile delinquency, reforms in policy planning and implementation need to reinforced. The state can help in these process and offer direction to the courts as they can provide leadership in the whole process. The final result should be less youth under detention, reduced crime rate among minors and eventually, reformed minors once they go under the correction system. Collaboration needs to start from the parents, the community, the police department, the prosecution, the defense and finally the probation and detention officers. Once all these parties work together, achieving the objectives to reduce juvenile delinquency will then be achieved.
The main type of reform is to reduce the reliance on the detention system. If the system changed to find causes and then alternatives, then the whole system would go under complete change. The ways in which this could be implemented is to abolish the unnecessary and unsuitable use of the secure detention facilities, the system could also reduce the rate at which second arrests are made and Failure-to-appear rates awaiting judgement. The other way to implement these reforms is by strictly adhering to the standards set for correctional centers. By ensuring that the conditions inside these facilities are safe and also appropriate for the minors is a major step. The state could also focus on redirecting more funds to sustain the new reforms that are proposed. The funds should also include a part that goes to preventing cases of delinquency instead of dealing with those cases. As much as the system has gone through transition over the years to improve, much more needs to be done to reduce juvenile delinquency.
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