In life, we are faced with trials and tribulations, and how we respond to these problems shape us into who we will be. If we respond poorly to these issues, it could land us in a courtroom or even behind bars. As young impressionable juveniles are exposed to family problems, drugs, and peer pressure, how they react can lead them to a life of crime and dancing in and out of the juvenile justice system. Crime causation factors in juveniles include family life, social environment, biological factors, and educational environments. How they respond to these factors can get them in a juvenile court or- if the crime is severe enough- an adult court. Depending on which court a juvenile ends up in, their experiences within the system can revolve around rehabilitation or punishment.
There are many different factors that can cause a juvenile to turn to crime. Biological makeup and genetics can have a hand in causing criminality within juveniles. Along with biological makeup, psychological makeup can also cause criminality within juveniles. However, these are just internal factors that cause criminality; there are many more external factors that can turn juveniles toward crime. Family is a large external factor that affects juveniles the most. Family, as a crime causation factor, focuses on parents, siblings, extended family members, and the dynamic of the family. There is a correlation between parents’ absence and criminality in their children. For example, the Rochester Youth Study focused on the quality of parent-child relationships. The Rochester Youth Study researchers found that “the relationship between family process factors and delinquency is circular; poor-parenting increased the probability if delinquent behavior, and delinquent behavior further weakened the relationship between parent and child” (Taylor and Fritsch, 67). It is found that the presence of a father reduces the chance of his son being delinquent, first born children are less likely to be delinquents, and the larger the family, the more likely that a child from the family will become a delinquent. Coming from a broken home, or a home plagued by abuse or neglect, can correlate to delinquency or delinquent behaviors in juveniles.
The social environment of a juvenile can also play a role in causing criminality. The social environment of a juvenile can relate to social class, the peers in a juvenile’s life, and the activities and interests the juvenile partakes in. Along with the social environment, the ecological and educational environments also play a role in the crime causation of juveniles. These environmental factors include community, neighborhoods, attitude toward school, and performance in school. If a juvenile performs poorly in school and falls into a bad crowd of peers, it is likely that the juvenile is question will fall into delinquent behaviors. In a recent study, one that examined the relationship between educational factors and delinquency, it was found that a “weak school commitment and poor school performance were associated with increased involvement and drug use” (Taylor and Fritsch, 71). In this same study, it was also found that those who were more attached to school also avoided delinquency, and that the involvement in delinquency increased the chances of the juvenile to drop out of school.
There are many factors that can contribute to the causation of crime in juveniles. Many of these factors are external, but there are also a few internal factors that can have the greatest impact on whether a juvenile will or will not participate in delinquent behavior. A child that is failing his classes, a child that is being abused at home, a child without a father, and a child with a poor living situation all have one thing in common; They are at a higher risk of falling into delinquent behaviors and setting on the path of crime.
Differences Between Juvenile and Adult Courts
The court systems in America follow the same basic guidelines; there is an initial arrest, a preliminary hearing to decipher if there is a case to be made, a trial before a jury of the offender’s peers, sentencing, and appeal. However, in the juvenile court system, there are a few other steps and informal approaches to settle cases. There are similarities between the adult court system and the juvenile court system, but there are mostly differences between the two. The biggest difference between the courts are the cases they handle, followed by who is in charge, and finally the sentencing procedures.
Adult courts handle cases ranging from parking tickets to something as severe as murder. While some types of cases overlap between the adult and juvenile courts, there is a different focus in the juvenile court systems. Juvenile court cases revolve around juveniles under the age of 18, and focus on the welfare of the child on or involved in a trial. “The juvenile court not only has jurisdiction over delinquent acts and status offenses but also has jurisdiction over child abuse and neglect matters, adoption, termination of parental rights, custody matters, and child support” (Taylor and Fritsch, 235). The juvenile courts still deal with violent juvenile cases, but also look at cases involving property crimes. This is where the two court systems overlap regarding cases, and the similarities don’t stop there.
How a case is handled in the juvenile courts is similar to how a case is handled in the adult court in the sense that there is a preliminary hearing, a trial, and a sentence. However, sometimes after an arrest is made on a juvenile offender, and a decision is made during intake whether a case can be handled informally. If the juvenile can abide by certain requirements in exchange for having the case handled informally, then they aren’t processed deeper into the system. “The juvenile is typically required to pay victim restitution, perform community service, attend school, or meet some other related requirement” (Taylor and Fritsch, 243). If agreed upon by the offender, they would be released rather than detained, and they would remain free only if they abide by the terms of their release. It is something that is unique to the juvenile court system, and is often used on first-time offenders who commit petty crimes.
Another difference between the court systems is the hierarchy within them. In an adult court, a judge is the only person qualified enough to judge a case in the court. However, there is the option of a court administrator taking over for the judge in the juvenile court system. This applies mostly to the other jobs the juvenile court judge must fulfill, but in an adult court, the judge sticks to his own job. Along with this difference comes the additives to the juvenile court. In both an adult and a juvenile court, there is a defense attorney, a prosecuting attorney, a bailiff, and a judge. Additionally, in a juvenile court there are referees that are present during cases and who tend to pre-adjudication hearings.
It is also notable that the juvenile court can either be part of adult court, or completely separate from all courts. Where the population is larger, it is more common for the juvenile courts to be separate from adult courts, whereas in smaller populations, it’s commonplace for the juvenile courts to be within adult court.
Both adult and juvenile courts have similarities in the way they basically function. The differences between the two are most prevalent in the little details; having a court administrator take over the judge’s duties, cases being informally taken care of during the intake process, types of cases and the focus in said cases, as well as the addition of referees in the court setting. While the differences aren’t terribly noticeable, they are still present, and alter the way a case can pan out for juveniles during their trials.
Rehabilitation vs. Punishment in the Juvenile Justice System
In the world of corrections, there are generally four main goals; rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, and retribution. Rehabilitation, in corrections, involves treatment and counseling for juveniles in order to reform offenders. These treatments and the counseling is what is commonly emphasized and prescribed in juvenile institutions, or juvenile detention centers. Rehabilitation can involve furthering academic education and, in some cases, providing vocational and job training to juveniles so that they can be prepared to enter the workforce. The main goal of juvenile incarceration is to rehabilitate the juvenile offenders so that they will not become repeat or habitual offenders in their adulthood.
In many facilities, education is a requirement. It is speculated in the text that many juvenile offenders will not continue their education where they left it, so the institutions in which they are housed educate them as needed. It is difficult to teach these children, as they vary in intelligence, age, and capability. However, those who have fallen behind in the curriculum are caught up, and those juveniles who are older will often receive their GEDs through the educational programs provided.
In select institutions, vocational training is offered to juveniles in order to prepare them for work once they leave the facility. In programs like these, juveniles are taught skills required for entry-level jobs. In these programs, juveniles soak up knowledge and learn the proper attitudes to adopt when out and ready to join the workforce. In special cases, the juveniles participating in these programs are working in a partnership with a third-party company in order to be work-ready.
Aside from the low-risk juveniles participating in those rehabilitation programs, there are still serious juvenile offenders in need of rehabilitation. These offenders, arrested for such crimes as murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and rape, are set up in specialized institutions. These specialized institutions focus on repeat offenders and offenders with serious crimes under their belts. Even though the common consensus would be to punish these offenders rather than rehabilitate them, the specialized institutions housing these serious offenders are still focused on rehabilitating its inhabitants. Regimented education, recreational time, and extracurricular activities keep those offenders busy while providing them counseling and rehabilitative programs. The institutions specializing in the more serious juvenile offenders have managed to produce a miniscule recidivism rate, proving that the “students” that have “graduated” from their institutions could be, and have been, rehabilitated.
When an individual goes to jail or prison, whether it be for a petty shoplifting crime or something as severe as murder, the immediate, knee-jerk response would be to say that the individual should be punished for the crime committed. However, the focus on juveniles is rehabilitation, so that they will not grow up to become repeat or habitual offenders. It is important to remember who is being incarcerated, and why they are. It is easy for an adult to be punished rather than rehabilitated because they are adults, and understand right from wrong better than children do. When dealing with juveniles- those under the age of 18- you must look at the situation from a different perspective. A juvenile is still a child, learning right from wrong and making mistakes as they do so. Teaching them that the delinquent behavior they are expressing is wrong, and giving them new coping mechanisms is much more beneficial to the juvenile and to society than locking the juvenile up without explanation. This is why the juvenile corrections system is focused on rehabilitating and educating young offenders rather than dishing out severe punishments.
- Taylor, Robert W., and Eric J. Fritsch. Juvenile Justice: Policies, Programs, and Practices. Fifth ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2020.