10.2. Juvenile Justice
ALISON S. BURKE
The contemporary juvenile justice system operates under the premise that juveniles are different than adults
and require special attention and treatment. The juvenile justice system believes that juveniles are malleable
and can be rehabilitated. The juvenile court is based on the premise that public safety is best served by
emphasizing the rehabilitation, rather than the incapacitation and punishment of juveniles. 1 Unfortunately,
sensationalized media exposure of violent youth has led to exaggerated public fear of juvenile crime, get
tough legislation, and a perceived need to “do something” about juvenile crime. 2 This punitive position
is nothing new. Before the inception of the juvenile justice system a mere 100 years ago, youth were
treated the same as adults. They were considered culpable for their actions and housed alongside adult
offenders in jails and prisons. Recent research has utilized neuroscience to support the need to treat juveniles
differently because they are different. The sections of the brain that govern characteristics associated with
moral culpability do not stop maturing until the early 20s. Therefore, it is assumed that someone under age
20, such as a juvenile delinquent, has an underdeveloped brain.
When addressing juvenile delinquency in America, the pendulum swings from punitive policies to
rehabilitative policies and then back again depending on media, politics, and the current climate. There is
no magic bullet approach to preventing juvenile delinquency, but as the court evolves, changes, and utilizes
best practices, it gets closer.
Ted Talks: Stephen Case The youth crime ‘problem’ is examined as a social construction and moral
panic created by institutions in Western societies. The talk traces the evolution of youth crime into a
phenomenon persistently misrepresented as an escalating social epidemic. The developmental life stages of
‘childhood’ and ‘adolescence’ as inventions are explored, highlighting differences between young people
and adults. In this way, ‘youth crime’ can be identified as a social problem requiring distinct responses.
A running theme is a child as a source of adult anxiety and fear, motivating societies to create structures,
1. Cox, S. M., Conrad, J. J., & Allen, J. M. (2003). Juvenile justice: A guide to theory and practice. McGraw-Hill Humanities, Social Sciences
& World Languages.
2. Benekos, P., & Merlo, A. (2004). Controversies in juvenile justice and delinquency. Anderson Publishing.
processes, theories, and images of youth crime that punish lawbreakers. The ‘solution’ is the ‘positive youth
justice’ model. Children should not be punished as if they are adults but their criminal behavior should be
seen as a normal part of growing up. Instead, they should be worked with to meet their needs, to embrace
their human rights and to promote their life chances. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYWPyiZIpV8
Introduction to the American Criminal Justice System
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