Juvenile and Adult Courts: a Comparative Analysis Essay

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The United States government is based on a checks and balances type system. The three main parts of this system are the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. This judicial systems job is to uphold the law of the land. Law can be defined as a set of rules or norms of conduct which mandate, proscribe or permit specified relationships among people and organizations, provide methods for ensuring the impartial treatment of such people, and provide punishments for those who do not follow the established rules of conduct (Wikipedia.org, 2005). This is a very wide and all encompassing definition of the law and the governing judicial system.

Just like the United States government the judicial system is broken up into different checks, balances, and systems. Two of these main systems are the juvenile justices system and the adult justice system. The obvious difference between these two courts is that the juvenile system is designed to handle youth offenders and the adult system is designed to handle adult offenders. Both of these two systems despite their difference have the same end goal; to administer justice. In the pages to follow we will discuss the big picture of the juvenile justice system, go over a point by point comparison between the juvenile system and the adult system, touch on both the benefits and disadvantages to being tried as a minor in the juvenile court from the perspective of a minor, and review the societal implication of abolishing the juvenile court system.

Overview of Juvenile Justice System

The main component of the juvenile justice system is that it is designed to cater to minors who break the law. The legal information institute categorizes it as; juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for criminal culpability is set at 18 years. Juvenile law is mainly governed by state law and most states have enacted a juvenile code. The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment (LII, 2005). The juvenile justice system as we know it today is a relatively new concept in the big scheme of legal history. In fact prior to the 19th century in America, young people above the age of five were considered mature, and looked upon as miniature adults or property.

Society had the notion of infants and toddlers, but not any notion of childhood. When children got into trouble, and their family gave up hope, one of three punishments took place: (1) the apprenticeship system where middle and upper class children were bound out to a skilled craftsman to be used as assistants; (2) the binding-out system where poor children were bound out to any responsible adult to be used any way needed; and (3) church discipline where church officials administered floggings, whippings, beatings, and brandings. These were considered the equivalent of punishments that a fully-grown adult would receive (Faculty.ncwc.edu, 2005). Throughout the early to mid 1800s this trend of miniature adults continued to grow and youths became independent and adult like as they worked in factories during the industrial revolution. As this time period came to a close things started to change. I

n 1899, the Juvenile Court was invented in Chicago by passage of the Juvenile Court Act. This date and place is generally regarded as the birth of juvenile justice and the birth of the concept of juvenile delinquency. Its creation gave birth to two new ideals; Parens patriae (the state as parent) a legal philosophy and doctrine established in the case of Ex parte Crouse (1838) when a father challenged the Philadelphia House of Refuges right to hold his daughter who had been committed there by the mother. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that such placement was not punishment but benevolence, no due process claim could be made by the father, and that the father had no standing anyway because the state had a legal obligation to step in whenever the parents are irresponsible. A related concept is In Loco Parentis established in State v. Pendergrass (1837) where the North Carolina Supreme Court said a teacher is the substitute of a parent, and can administer moderate punishment if not inflicted out of malice or bad passion and Due process (legal safeguards) a legal philosophy protecting the rights of anyone coming in contact with authorities, established first for juveniles in the case of People v. Turner (1870) were a youth committed to Chicagos House of Refuge against both his parents wishes was found to be indeed experiencing punishment and not being helped by his placement.

The Illinois Supreme Court stated that there should be some kind of court order that spells out how such youth are to be protected, controlled, and reformed. (Faculty.ncwc.edu, 2005). By the 1960s the juvenile justice system began to resemble the system we know today. This modern system is comprised of approximately 4,000 juvenile courts which specialize in the problems of youth and operate with a philosophy (of rehabilitation) that even the worst delinquent is not to be considered a criminal, or bad person, but instead an erring or sick child who needs help. Some 2.8 million juveniles are arrested for crimes by police annually, but only about 1.8 million are processed as delinquents by the courts.

Numerous others are dealt with in a variety of ways, as the following list illustrates: * delinquents a term applied to the annual number (1.8 million) arrested and convicted of criminal offenses, usually of a serious or chronic nature, and are sentenced with probation (54%), prison (28%), fine (13%), or conditional release (5%) * status offenders a term for (2.2 million) youth who are annually caught doing something wrong only because its outlawed for a young person to do that (on account of the status of being young), with runaway, truancy, and curfew violations being the most common offenses, and they are channeled directly by police into a separate subsystem of group homes and shelters, and labeled PINS (persons in need of supervision), CHIPS (children in need of protection and services), or MINS (minors in need of supervision) by the court or child protective agency * abused and neglected a term for (3.3 million) youth who are annually involved in reports of child abuse and neglect to a state child protective agency, and 1.1 million confirmed cases are channeled directly by social workers into a separate subsystem of temporary foster home placements, with social workers evaluating the childs upbringing and fitness of parents * dependent a term for (0.8 million) unemancipated youth who are annually put up for adoption or made a ward of the state on account of parental abandonment (750,000), discarded as infants in public places (125), orphaned because of parental accident (400), unclaimed at the hospital (31,000), or left for dead in attempted infanticide (600), and are channeled directly by police into a separate subsystem of orphanages, private foundation homes, and state homes for girls and boys (Faculty.ncwc.edu, 2005)

Point by point comparison between juvenile and adult courts

s stated above the main difference between these two major court systems is age of culpability within each of the respective courts. Most states stand that anyone under the age of 18 would be considered a minor and treated as such within their court system. Each state has its own distinct juvenile justice system with its own laws and practices. The following chart outlines some of the broad underlying beliefs that distinguish the juvenile justice system from the adult criminal justice system (PBS.org, 2005).

The underlying rationales of the juvenile court system are that youth are developmentally different from adults and that their behavior is malleable. Rehabilitation and treatment, in addition to community protection, are considered to be primary and viable goals.| | Rehabilitation is not considered a primary goal in the criminal justice system, which operates under the assumption that criminal sanctions should be proportional to the offense. Deterrence is seen as a successful outcome of punishment.

Limitations are placed on public access to juvenile records because of the belief that juvenile offenders can be successfully rehabilitated, and to avoid their unnecessary stigmatization. Court proceedings may be confidential to protect privacy. | | Open public access to criminal records is required, and all court proceedings are open to the public.

The juvenile justice system follows a psychological casework approach, taking into account a detailed assessment of the youths history in order to meet his or her specific needs. The juvenile offender faces a hearing, rather than a trial, which incorporates his social history as well as legal factors. Defendants in the criminal justice system are put on trial, which is based largely on legal facts.

Law enforcement has the option of preventative detention ” detaining a youth for his own protection or the communitys protection. | | Defendants
have the right to apply for bond or bail.

Not all states afford juveniles the right to a jury trial.| | All defendants have a constitutional right to a jury trial.  A juvenile offender is judged delinquent rather than guilty. Because of the individualized nature of the juvenile justice system, sentencing varies and may cover a wide range of community-based and residential options. The disposition is based on the individuals offense history and the severity of the offense, and includes a significant rehabilitation component. The disposition can be for an unspecified period of time; the court can send a youth to a certain facility or program until it is determined he is rehabilitated, or until he reaches the age of majority. The disposition may also include a restitution component and can be directed at people other than the offender, for example his parents. A defendant is found innocent or guilty. The offender is sentenced to a specified period of time which is determined by the severity of the offense, as well as the defendants criminal history.

Benefits and disadvantages of juvenile court from the prospective of a youth offender These differences attribute to both advantages and disadvantages for a youth offender one of the main advantages would be that most juvenile courts are focused on rehabilitating the youth offender as opposed to punishing them with long prison sentences. The youth offender would more than likely get a sentence that was based around treatment and rehabilitation than being sentenced to a certain number of years in prison. They would also not have to live with the permanent stigmata attached to being a criminal as youth arrest records are sealed and not available to the public. Of course from the perspective of a hard or tough child being sentenced in a child court might make you look weak and cause you to loose street rep.

This might sound ridiculous but to a young man or woman growing up in the hood your street rep might be all that stops you from becoming the next victim of random violence. Discuss the societal implication of abolishing juvenile court There are huge benefits to society as a whole by having a juvenile court system. Some of the most obvious would be that youth offenders could be treated differently than adult offenders. Some crimes are very heinous in nature regardless of what age the offender was when they committed it. However, the atrociousness of the crime does not necessarily translate to mean that someone truly understood what they were doing and why.

This is why we must have the juvenile court. Youth offenders may not truly understand what their criminal actions are producing and therefore it would not be fair to punish them as mature cognitive adults who understand their actions and are fully aware of the consequences it brings. If we get rid of the juvenile system our prisons and jails will begin to be flooded with youths along with their adult counterparts. This will help to contribute to the already overcrowded prisons and more than likely cause the youth to become part of the system and possibly lead to a life of crime and punishment. Whereas the juvenile justice system is more focused on rehabilitation than punishment and prosecution.


We have discussed the big picture of the juvenile justice system, gone over a point by point comparison between the juvenile system and the adult system, touched on both the benefits and disadvantages to being tried as a minor in the juvenile court from the perspective of a minor, and reviewed the societal implication of abolishing the juvenile court system. Our government both federal and state is faced with a huge dilemma; whether or not to keep the juvenile justice system or to just try all offenders in the traditional adult criminal court system. Recent history has shown that juveniles need to be in a class or category of there own because of their different level of emotional, physical, and psychological understanding of their actions and responses to others actions. It would not be fair to base a young childs court case on the same standards we would base an adults on, that is why we do not allow children to vote, drink, or drive. They are not ready for that responsibility, nor are most children offenders or not ready for the responsibility of adult court.

Faculty.ncwc.edu. (2005). An Overview of Juvenile Justice. Retrieved July 8, 2005, from http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/111/111lect14.htm LII. (2005). Juvenile Justice: an overview. Retrieved July 8, 2005, from http://straylight.law.cornell.edu/topics/juvenile.html PBS.org. (2005). Juvenile vs. Adult Justice. Retrieved July 9, 2005, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/juvenile/stats/juvvsadult.html Wikipedia.org (2005). Law. Retrieved July 8, 2005, from


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