Sample Law Essay on Juvenile Justice: The Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs in the US read more

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As the term suggests, a law essay is basically an essay that discusses a topic within or related to the field of law. Regardless if it is on a broad topic or a more specific one, a law essay should integrate information from reputable sources, present analysis, and generate new knowledge rather than simply reiterate what is already known. The short law essay below discusses the most salient aspects of juvenile justice and sheds light into the effectiveness of this system.

For the most part of history, children who committed delinquent or criminal acts were treated by the justice system the same way. As Nybell et al. note in their book on child welfare, children accused of crime were made to stand trial and in some cases could even be sentenced to death if found guilty. It was not until the late 19th century when children and minors in general began to be viewed in a different light. Contrary to the once-prevalent view that children and adolescents can understand the consequences of their actions and are therefore responsible for them, they began to be viewed as developmentally different. The National Research Council on Medicine notes how expanding knowledge on how the youth differ from adults further advanced this perspective. From being considered as criminals, children and adolescents who committed offenses were increasingly regarded as incapable of fully grasping the consequences of their actions and therefore cannot be held responsible. Many also viewed them as possibly even victims of circumstances. Ultimately, policy and practice shifted their focus from punishment to rehabilitation in the belief that rehabilitative programs will facilitate their reintegration to society. While there is no question regarding the need for a juvenile justice system, the question of whether or not this system achieves the goals upon which its existence is predicated persists. This essay sheds some light to this question by looking at recent data available. The essay will first briefly discuss what juvenile justice is including its programs and then present data on their effectiveness within the context of the United States.

What is the Juvenile Justice System?

Cox, Allen, and Hanser describe the juvenile justice system as the laws, agencies, institutions, and services existing within and among federal, state, and local jurisdictions tasked with intervening in matters of juvenile delinquency with the ultimate goal of effecting rehabilitation. It is important to note that this system is extremely complex. Much like the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system varies depending on the jurisdiction. States and localities have their own laws, system structures, and practices, and such factors play a crucial role in how the local juvenile justice system functions. On the whole, however, the juvenile justice system focuses more on promoting the rehabilitation of young offenders.

The need for the system is made clear by the statistical data on youth offenses. According to Cox et al., Around 2.1 million youth below 18 years of age are arrested every year. The vast majority of these arrested individuals (more than 99%) are processed in juvenile court. Less than 1%, mostly comprising violent crimes, are processed in adult criminal court. The majority of youth cases are also adjudicated, which refers to the practice of having a judge determine if the youth committed an offense. Depending on the case-specific factors, a young person who has committed an offense may be placed under probation, made to perform community service, or admitted to shelters, group homes, youth correctional facilities, and reform schools among others.

Who Effective Are Juvenile Justice Programs?

Determining the efficiency of the juvenile justice system is a monumental task. It will take years to collect and analyze the sheer amount of data and labor required to create the most accurate picture. However, numerous studies focusing on sections of the population have shown that the system is not perfect; indeed, it is far from it. In a report published by the Council of State Governments Justice Center [CSG Justice Center] in 2015, researchers found the rate of recidivism was high. Around 76% among juvenile offenders under the age of 25 upon release are rearrested within 3 years. This number increases to 84% within 5 years. This means that less than 16% are able to avoid committing an offense in the first 5 years after release, though there is a likelihood that some go on to be arrested sometime after 5 years. In a report by Sweeney on another study conducted in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers found that 40% of juvenile offenders placed on juvenile detention eventually get imprisoned by the time they turn 25 years old.

Several factors hint at why the rate of recidivism is so high. One such factor is the existence of efficiencies in the child welfare system. Studies show that juvenile offenders who are entered into the child welfare system are more likely to reoffend than those who are kept out of the system. In particular, placing juvenile offenders in correctional facilities has been found to have little if any effect at all in preventing juveniles from reoffending. A report by The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that despite the high rate of placing juveniles in correctional facilities, the rate of recidivism was still between 70% and 80%. Correctional facilities are known to cause harm among this vulnerable population. Juveniles in such centers are at risk of experiencing overcrowded conditions, physical and sexual violence, mental and emotional trauma, and suicide among others.

What these statistical data show is that the juvenile justice system is far from successful in achieving its own goals. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. While the system is intended and indeed designed to reform the youth, results show that there are flaws that render it incapable of preventing many from reoffending. The findings of these studies all point to the need for reform not only of the processes that underlie the system but the principles and approaches that govern it.

The Future

Although it is clear that the system is far from working well, new approaches are showing promising results. This refers to the utilization of a restorative justice framework as opposed to previous frameworks used. Bouffard et al. found that putting youth offenders in detention centers and juvenile correctional facilities has often proved to be inefficient. Rather than achieve the intended goals of reforming young offenders and preparing them for reintegration to society, the rate of recidivism is far too high for the practice to be considered productive and perhaps even meaningful. On the other hand, restorative justice seeks to change this.

The restorative justice framework sees the commission of a crime by a juvenile as a disruption in the balance between a number of stakeholders. As the term itself suggests, restorative justice seeks to reclaim this balance, which it considers only possible by involving stakeholders in the decision-making process. Emphasis is therefore placed upon the idea of healing rather than retribution or punishment. Central to the restorative process is dialogue between the victim or the victim’s representative such as family members, the offender, and other individuals or groups that may be involved such as members of affected communities. Dialogue is conducted as it is considered as the pathway towards centering the victim, encouraging responsibility in the offender, and reaching solutions that represent the best interests of the parties involved.

While the approach of restorative justice may seem to put too much emphasis on sentiment, there is plenty of data that support its effectiveness. A systematic review of over a hundred studies by Wilson et al. showed that outcomes are generally more favorable in cases that utilize restorative justice frameworks. The results of this review are echoed by another systematic review involving over 80 studies. In this review, offenders involved in cases that use restorative justice approaches including direct and indirect forms of mediation between victims and offenders were found to be less likely to reoffend than those who were placed under more mainstream approaches like placement in correctional facilities and detention centers.

The caveat in these studies, however, is that the success of restorative justice frameworks was inconsistent. Some studies yielded more favorable results while others generated limited results. The state of knowledge regarding the effect of restorative justice on recidivism indicates the need for more studies. But given the results as they are now, there is no doubt that this avenue is worth exploring.

Conclusion

The establishment of the juvenile justice system should rightfully be considered a milestone not only in legal history but in the history of humanity as a whole. The juvenile justice system acknowledged that the youth are fundamentally different from adults and used this knowledge for the welfare of the youth themselves. But even though a hundred years has passed since this system was built, the lack of effectiveness of programs under this system indicates that much still has to be done. As data shows, the rate of recidivism is still high. Fortunately, new avenues such as the use of restorative justice frameworks are showing promise. Only by continuously recognizing the need for changes can the juvenile justice system be improved to attain the goals it set out to achieve.

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Reference List

Lynn M. Nybell, Et Al., Childhood, Youth, and Social Work in Transformation: Implications for Policy and Practice (2009).

National Research Council Institute of Medicine, Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice (2001).

Steven M. Cox, Et. Al., Juvenile Justice: A Guide to Theory, Policy, and Practice (2017).

The Council of State Governments Justice Center, Reducing Recidivism and Improving Other Outcomes for Young Adults in the Juvenile and Adult Criminal Justice Systems (2015).

Chris Sweeney, Juvenile Detention Drives Up Adult Incarceration Rates, MIT Study Finds (2015).

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration (2011).

Jeff Bouffard, Et Al., The Effectiveness of Various Restorative Justice Interventions on Recidivism Outcomes Among Juvenile Offenders, Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 15 (2016).

David B. Wilson, Et Al., Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Principles in Juvenile Justice: A Meta-Analysis, National Criminal Justice Reference Service (2017).

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