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One concept that I saw appear throughout the reading was the idea of best interests and parens patriae. The reading discussed how when making decisions regarding the punishment of juveniles, it was often thought that the biological parents were not fit to make a decision or to educate their child in the search of reform. Mennel stated, “May not the natural parents, when unequal to the task of education, or unworthy of it, be superseded by the parens patriae, or common guardian of the community?” (Singer 32). As defined by the dictionary, parens patriae is “the government, or any other authority, regarded as the legal protector of citizens unable to protect themselves.” When parents are unable to reform their children and prevent them from committing offenses, the government deems themselves fit to decide what is in the best interest of the child. In the case of Mary Ann Crouse, her father was denied his right to free her from being placed in the House of Refuge. This shows how the government was often seen to decide what was in the best interest of a juvenile. There were also many complaints about the juvenile courts and their “denial of basic constitutional rights to juveniles [which] subjected them to treatments that were not necessarily in their best interests” (39). There was a common theme of the government not having the best interests of the juveniles in mind or in claiming that they knew better than the parents of the juveniles.
The concepts of best interests and parens patriae were two interesting ideas that seem to go hand in hand. The government, often seen as the common guardian of the community, was thought to best be able to serve and reprimand juvenile offenders when the offenders’ parents were unable to bring about reform in their children. The government also often failed to recognize the best interest of a juvenile, instead recognizing the best interests of themselves in being able to concisely put away offenders without a second thought. Reformatories such as the House of Refuge were replicated “not because of any proven ability to correct delinquents but because they became organizationally convenient institutions for dealing with delinquents” (Singer 32). This shows how the government had its own best interests in mind when creating more and more reformatories. There was no proof that these reformatories did anything to help juveniles, but they were beneficial and convenient in getting delinquents off the streets and into places of punishment. This is not surprising when you consider the government’s affinity to first want to apprehend offenders as opposed to treating them.
When it comes to the question of recriminalizing delinquency, the concepts of best interest and parens patriae are very relevant. Who decides what is in the best interests of a juvenile? Is it the parents or guardians? Or is it the government? In the case of juvenile offenders, it is most often seen to be the parens patriae who are in charge of finding what is best for each juvenile. The parents do not often get a say of what happens to their children once they become juvenile offenders. That is left to the law in most instances. There is also the question of whether or not recriminalizing delinquency is in the best interests of each juvenile offender. This is a difficult question and one that might best be thought of on a case by case basis. Does the offender benefit from being put into the criminal justice system or is it just a convenient way for the government to deal with delinquents? There are a lot of questions that come to mind after thinking of whether recriminalizing delinquency is the right decision.
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