Youth offenders are normally first time offenders and it was felt that they should be given a chance of reform rather than send them to prison and punish them. Modern legalists felt that crimes committed by children and minors should be treated differently when compared to adult crimes. Juvenile Courts were created to hear crimes committed by youth offenders and give them a second chance by counseling them and rehabilitating them (“Juvenile court”. 2007).
The history of Juvenile Courts in the United States dates back to early 1800s when the Government while responding to the problems of vagrancy, increase in crime and drunkenness created the “House of Reform”. This was a place where wayward children were sent for reform and rehabilitation. The form of such reform units changed over the time and in 1899, the first Juvenile Court was set up in Chicago by passing the Juvenile Courts Act.
This was set up by a group of philanthropists who believed in Court, police and Correction systems of society to provide legal safeguards and to supervise children (An Overview of Juvenile Justice). Confinement of children was a major Human Rights issue wherein it was felt that children were the victims of human rights violations as their conditions of confinement was pathetic. They were often confined in the same setup with adults and were the victims of violence meted out by the guards and other persons so detained.
A study of such detention centers also revealed that these children were often denied basic necessities like adequate food, health care, education and basic sanitary facilities. As a result when these children leave such detention centers and return to the world, they often carry the baggage of their experiences within which often makes them turn to crime (Children's Rights-Juvenile Justice, Human Right Watch). It is recommended that Countries should take minimum steps to safeguard the Human Rights.
Firstly, the governments should ensure that detention should be used as a last resort to punish children who are delinquents and this detention should be for a shortest period of time. Further, incarceration should not be used as punishment for acts which are not crimes, if committed by adults. It was further suggested that the conditions of detention and incarceration should meet international standards. Further, children should never be detained with adults and they should be permitted to meet their family members, legal representatives, and others from the outside world on a regular basis.
Further with a view to facilitate easy rehabilitation and adjustment in the outer world once released, they should be provided basic facilities like education, health and mental health care, adequate food, and sanitary facilities. It was also suggested that the practice of death penalty should be stopped with immediate effect (Children's Rights-Juvenile Justice, Human Right Watch). The entire process of Juvenile justice revolves under three concepts, namely, Parens Patriae, In Loco Parens and Due process.
“Parens Patriae”, the State is the parent, is the State’s way of supervising children when their parents are not in a position to do so. A related concept is that of “In Loco Parens”, which basically means in place of parents, wherein either an organization or an individual takes over the responsibility of the parent in the absence of the real parent. Another important concept is that of Due Process which is the basic philosophy used for protecting the rights of any individual approaching the Court.
This concept was used for Juvenile Delinquents for the first time in a case in 1870. The best interest of the child was the main consideration when any case came up before such a Court. In order to achieve this, a special Judge was to preside over it’s functioning, proceedings were to be informal and cases were to be held in camera, records maintained were to be separate and last but not the least, probation was the worst punishment given to such Juvenile Offenders (An Overview of Juvenile Justice).
The juvenile justice process consists of ten basic steps and starts with intake and screening of the juvenile offenders. The second part then involves detention of the offender and then seeking probation for the offender. Proper records are maintained regarding the offender and psychological services, protective services, medical services, court services are provided to the offender so also volunteer services. After the adjudication and probation period parole or after care is decided and provided.
In the juvenile justice system correctional process is given a lot of importance. There are lot of short term facilities like detention centers, shelters, diagnostic centers etc. and long-term facilities like training schools, ranches, boot camps etc (An Overview of Juvenile Justice). The entry point of Juveniles is largely through police contact which contributes to about 85% and only 10% are those whose parents refer them as being unmanageable. The remaining 5% are referred by the other members of society like teachers, neighbors etc.
The entire process of juvenile justice is completely different from that of an adult trial. The main difference lies in the fact that in the Juvenile Court system, rehabilitation of the individual is the main focus while in the Adult Court due process and retribution is more important than the individual. Secondly when an offence is committed by a juvenile it is termed as an act of delinquency while in the case of adults it is a crime. Labeling is very important as it reflects on and ultimately affects the individual concerned.
In an adult court any wrongful act is termed as a crime and the person doing it is a criminal whereas in a juvenile court the wrongful act is a delinquent act and the person is a delinquent. Thus the risk of converting a simple offender into a criminal is reduced. In Juvenile Courts special attention is given to the family background and academic records of the delinquent while deciding the case. No such consideration is given to adults in the adult courts (Girl, 2006).