The cause for the protection of children in conflict with the law has been one of political, national and social importance. The ambit of the law reaching and accosting youth in criminal activity has generated both positive and negative insights from the public, the academe and various organizations involved in the juvenile justice area. But amidst the calls for stronger enforcement and latitude in enforcing the law on juveniles, calls for reform and renewed sense of direction have been made to correct the alleged deficiencies in the system.
Juvenile Justice in the United States: A new focus
The campaign for reform in the juvenile justice system in the United States has been a long fought and difficult issue (Robert Shepherd, Jr., 1996). Sadly though, the political debate surrounding juvenile justice issues have only generated more hype rather than provide a beacon by which proponents and opponents can work by in coming up with concrete measures for the upliftment of the juvenile justice issue (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). The essence of the debate lies in the efforts of various groups on both sides of the spectrum to gain adherents for their advocacies (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). For those who are alarmed by the increasing incidents of violence perpetrated by juveniles, these groups merely state that they are interpreting their work as a reply to the clamor of sanctioning stiffer penalties for juveniles who commit crimes (Shepherd, Jr., 1996).
But there are those who oppose any increase in the retributive aspect of juvenile justice (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). These groups wish for authorities to still adhere to the conventional approach of adjudication of juveniles via the family and juvenile court system (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). In a survey conducted for the formulation of a public opinion on juvenile crime, at least 80 percent of the respondents admit that the number of crimes involving juveniles has increased (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). Out of that number, about 60 percent of the respondents have said that there was a sharp upswing in that statistic (Shepherd, Jr., 1996).
The sentiments of the respondents in the survey indicated a mixed reaction over the state’s handling of the juvenile justice system (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). Many of the respondents said that juveniles involved in the large scale peddling of narcotics must be tried in courts for adult offenders (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). Also, most of the respondents did demand that juveniles who commit heinous and violent offenses be tried in adult courts (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). Be that as it may, a majority of the respondents did not want youths or juveniles to be placed in the same incarceration facilities as adults (Shepherd, Jr., 1996).
In the past years, positive public opinion over the dispensation of justice on juvenile offenders by juvenile courts has decreased (Crime and Punishment in America, 2008). They aver that the juvenile courts were only meant to mete out sentences on juveniles for cases such as idling and small cases, and they were not designed to handle the heinous crimes such as murder and multiple homicides in the present society (Crime, 2008). But again, the defenders of the juvenile justice system say the juvenile justice system should not be judged by a few isolated cases of juvenile violence, like the school murders in the 1990’s (Crime, 2008). In such cases, courts are allowed by operation of the law to transfer the most vicious offenders to the jurisdiction of the adult criminal court system (Crime, 2008).
Fighting Juvenile Crime
In a report to the United States Congress and to the President, the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FAJJ) made several recommendations in the light of the increasing incidents of juvenile crime (Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, 2007). The central theme of the recommendatory paper is to revisit the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (Federal, 2007). The paper was presented to Congress to allow both incumbent and new members on Capitol Hill to evaluate and peruse over the recommendations as they try to forge a new direction towards the dispensation of justice to juvenile offenders (Shepherd, Jr., 1996).
Among the recommendations of the FAJJ is for Congress and the Executive branch to re-empower the JJDP Act, which is scheduled for reauthorization in 2007 (Federal, 2007). Other recommendations made by the FAJJ with regard to the implementation of the JJDPA is the allocation by the Federal government of resources needed by local authorities to abet them in the enforcement of the JJDPA (Federal, 2007). In other surveys conducted in some states, the majority of respondents still support the efficacy of the rehabilitation-centered treatment for juvenile offenders rather than one that is centered on exacting retribution (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). The survey also bore out the choice for severe punishment, like assigning the youthful offender to training schools, on the most rabid malefactor rather than as a blanket punishment for all types of juvenile offenders (Shepherd, Jr., 1996). For less serious offenders, the treatment, not retributive, aspect of the offender’s criminal responsibility toward society must be geared toward a community-based effort with the emphasis on the rehabilitation of the youthful offender (Shepherd, Jr., 1996).
Other recommendations made by other bodies involved in juvenile justice would be inclusive of a “dual-track” system, whereby the adjudication and enforcement arms of the government are coupled with the local government’s mandate to protect juveniles charged with less serious crimes (The Advocate, 1999). This system would assign responsibility over the investigation of the more serious offenses to the law enforcement and local child services branches of local government, while the task of the evaluation of less grave offenses will be left to the jurisdiction of the local child services department (Advocate, 1999). Juvenile court judges may also constitute Foster Care Review Boards in each locality (Advocate, 1999). These boards would be comprised of a medical professional or medical practitioner, an officer of the court, a staff member of the local social service department, a young adult and a parent of a minor (Advocate, 1999).
Under the recommendations of the FAJJ to the President and to Congress, the report points out the importance of such groups, labelled in the report as State Advisory Groups (SAG) and to insert that importance in the language of the JJDP (Advocate, 1999). This finding is further reinforced by other initiatives that revolve around the transfer of the focus of sending juveniles in conflict with the law to prison to more community based treatment (Families and Allies of Virginia’s Youth, 2008). The “training school” method, they aver, is a more effective system of rehabilitation and punishment than sending the offending youth to a facility far from the youth’s home (Virginia, 2008). It was also suggested that the initiatives for finding alternative measures to incarceration must be followed (Virginia, 2008).
In the final analysis, the debate over whether to follow time tested measures or to adopt new methods in dealing with juvenile crime in the United States will be a topic for years to come. But the basic element in the debate is that it must be recognized that juveniles are capable of committing crimes, some far more heinous than adults (Elizabeth Stawicki, 2008). What must be done, according to some observers, is that the environment of the child must be dealt with rather than reaping the consequences afterward (Stawicki, 2008). More effort should be devoted to intervention in the formative years of the child rather than allocating more resources to deal with the aftermath of the child’s dangerous environment (Stawicki, 2008). Dealing with the child early will far be better than giving more resources to prevent what the child may do in the future (Stawicki, 2008).
Advocate, The. (1999, June). Juvenile justice Issue. The Advocate Volume 9 number 2
Crime and Punishment in America. (2008). Juvenile justice in America-the future of juvenile justice. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from
Families and Allies of Virginia’s youth. (2008). Juvenile justice: how Virginia can do better. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from
Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. (2007). Annual report 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from
Shepherd, Jr., R.E. (1996). What does the public really want? Criminal Justice
Stawicki, E. (2008). MPR: Retiring judge sees mixed future for Minnesota children. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from