Article Review: Abolish or Restructure the Juvenile Court?
The juvenile justice system has been witnessing a sharp upward trend in youth crime since the 1980s (Spauldin, 2007). An example for this is a report by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (Florida DJJ) according to which almost 47,000 youngsters of 10 to 17 years of age were imprisoned for various crimes in 2016. Compared to the numbers four years ago, there is an increase of approximately 20,000 persons (Spauldin, 2007). The juvenile courts were established with the aims of rehabilitating the children who had participated in some illegal activities and not to punish them for the crime committed. Yet, the critics of the system were advocating for the abolishment of these courts due to their failure in combating juvenile crime. Responding to the instances of increased juvenile crime, the state and federal policymakers have enacted and passed laws that make the system more correctional. The laws also allow the youth to be tried in adult courts for various offenses (Spaldin, 2007). This move triggered intense policy debates that surround the issue of abolishment or restructuring of the juvenile courts. Soulier & Scott (2010) in their article published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry explain why the juvenile courts should be restructured.
Soulier & Scott argue that since juvenile laws are not developed by young people, it becomes challenging to determine the levels at which violation of these laws need governmental intervention (2010). They believe that most of the actions committed by juveniles could be wrongly interpreted even if there are no criminal intentions behind them . The authors point out the moral inconsistency in the way institutions or individuals handle juvenile crime. For example, acting in a certain manner can be perceived as a crime in one state while it is perceived right in another state (Soulier & Scott, 2010). Such conflicts cause confusions in the inter-state legal systems, and therefore, it would be better if juvenile cases are handled at the state level. Additionally, Soulier & Scott examine various trends in the juvenile justice system which might have influenced the decision to transfer some lawsuits to adult courts (2010). They acknowledge the unprecedented increase in teenage homicide and violence cases in the 20th century, which prompted new approaches demanding more punishment. The authors conclude by suggesting that advocates can make better ruling on cases if they consult a psychiatrist because they have the skill to understand the conflicts involved in juvenile cases. Hence, without necessarily holding a physical dialogue psychiatrists can guide the ruling process by disclosing the hidden needs of the juveniles (Soulier & Scott, 2010).
Soulier and Scott carefully state their points which elude a sense of confidence in their message. They are also keen to support their opinions with facts, a feature that makes their work more convincing. For instance, when examining the recent trends in juvenile crime, they cite sources like books and articles on the juvenile law (Soulier & Scott, 2010). Another superior feature of this article is a clear conclusion. After explaining and supporting their points, the authors recommend a solution to the problem.
The ideas discussed in the article appear to be convincing; it is true that juvenile courts are in dire need of restructuring. Failure to restructure them will lead to increased crime among children and young adults which will threaten the security of the public and even harm the perpetrators themselves. However, trying children in the adult legal system is not morally acceptable since they are still undergoing brain formation. Hence, they reason differently from adults (Peck, 2016). The concept of transferring youths to adult prisons may reduce the rate of recidivism. This, however, is contradicted with research that shows that while adult systems instill fear emotionally, they are physically dangerous for the juveniles (Peck, 2016). During sentencing judges can assign youths to various diversion programs which best match their moral needs (Spauldin, 2017). Furthermore, by employing the services of a psychiatrist, judges will be able to determine the appropriate behavior modification approach for the youth accurately. Some other solutions seeking to restructure the juvenile justice system are also provided in the article. They are similar to the views of Peck who states freedom, self-determination, equality, and liberty are the ingredients of the transformation of the juvenile system (2016).
Soulier & Scott’s article examines the role of psychiatrists in the juvenile systems to prove their effectiveness. In the beginning, the juvenile courts intended to treat children differently from adults. The system also sought to rehabilitate youths, but the concept did not prove effective. Psychiatry was another idea that was conceived in an attempt to help the delinquent youth. Child psychiatrists have since then been used in juvenile courts due to their knowledge about the development of psyche. According to studies, the adoption of psychiatric interventions in juvenile courts has been found to deliver significant reductions in the rate of recidivism (Spauldin 2017). Therefore, if Soulier and Scott’s decisions are considered, juvenile crime will vastly reduce. The reduction in juvenile crime will boost safety in communities; social life will improve with less number of cases involving theft, assault, drug use, vandalism and homicide. Moreover, local, state, and federal governments invest huge amounts of money in crime prevention, incarceration, and rehabilitation projects. Reduced crime will, therefore, help the authorities to save finances.
Soulier, M.F. & Scott, C.L. (2011, Dec 18). Juveniles in court. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 18(6), pp. 317-25. Retrieved from DOI:10.3109/10673229.2010.527518
Spaulding, S.L. (2017, May). Exploring the merging of two divergent behavioral support systems in juvenile justice.Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies Collection. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4942&context=dissertations
Peck, J.H. (2016, Jan). A new juvenile justice system: Total reform for a broken system. rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Retrieved from http://clcjbooks.rutgers.edu/books/a-new-juvenile-justice-system/#