Juvenile Justice System Analysis

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A grasp of the current conflict surrounding the responsibility and direction of the juvenile justice system becomes more obtainable when one takes into consideration how the system has progressed since its inception. The juvenile justice system was created in the late 1800s to reform U.S. policies regarding youth offenders. Since that time, a number of reforms - aimed at both protecting the "due process of law" rights of youth, and creating an aversion toward jail among the young - have made the juvenile justice system more comparable to the adult system, a shift from the United States original intent.
In the late 1980s, juvenile crime, especially violent crime, began to increase dramatically (Snyder and Sickmund 1999; McCord et al. 2001; Butts
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State laws continue to slowly evolve and garner interest among policymakers (Katzmann 2002). On this front, continuity is evident. Blended sentencing laws, for example, continue to generate debate about whether there should be two separate justice systems, one for juveniles and one for adults. Opponents argue that blending harms juveniles, while proponents argue that it brings greater efficiencies, protection of juvenile rights, and ultimately improved outcomes for young offenders (Fagan and Zimring 2000). Other laws—including those that exclude entire age groups from the purview of the juvenile justice system (Torbet et al. 1996), and others that “criminalize” the juvenile justice system by modeling it increasingly after the adult justice system (Feld 1999)—have led to similar debates. Although no state has begun to unify their juvenile and adult justice systems, it remains unclear how many court practitioners would oppose or embrace such a change (Butts and Harrell 1998). The debate continues, as do attempts to modify various sentencing laws to achieve such goals as deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation, and accountability.

Juxtaposed against the theme of continuity is the fact that in more than perhaps any period in juvenile justice, the last two decades have been witness to an almost ceaseless effort to develop new ways of preventing juvenile crime while holding young people accountable.
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For example, parental accountability laws and case processing standards have become common (National Criminal Justice Association 1997; Butts and Sanborn 1999). Accountability laws make parents civilly or criminally liable for the behavior of their children. Case processing laws and standards place time limits on the amount of time the courts can allow for the adjudication and/or disposition of delinquency cases. Alongside of such changes are new federally sponsored efforts to promote a range of other policies, such as expanding the use of risk and needs assessment and restorative justice programs (Andrews and Marble 2003). Collectively, these and other emerging efforts aim to improve juvenile justice through a myriad of ways, some punitive, some rehabilitative, and some not neatly fitting one category or the other. The efforts also can create burdens on juvenile courts and practitioners that may undermine their

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