The Juvenile Justice system, since its conception over a century ago, has been one at conflict with itself. Originally conceived as a fatherly entity intervening into the lives of the troubled urban youths, it has since been transformed into a rigid and adversarial arena restrained by the demands of personal liberty and due process. The nature of a juvenile's experience within the juvenile justice system has come almost full circle from being treated as an adult, then as an unaccountable child, now almost as an adult once more.
Studies and anecdotes have shown that our modern approach, however, is ill-equipped to reduce crime or deal with chronic delinquents while at the same time protecting their due liberties. We now stand on the precipice of decision: How can we strike an appropriate balance in the juvenile justice system? Should we even retain a separate system for children at all? The answers are usually difficult, sometimes subtle, but always possible to attain.
This paper will analyze the different theoretical issues pertaining to the modern juvenile court, determine their origin, and suggest a course of action for resolving these issues to the best extent possible. It is important to note, however, that the juvenile justice system alone cannot ever prevent all juvenile crime, respond perfectly to every situation or treat every suspect fairly. Furthermore, an effective antidote to modern juvenile crime would necessitate far broader action, addressing underlying social structure inequalities that breed poverty and social disorganization.
The Creation of Childhood and Its Court
Prior to modern times, Colonial American children were perceived to be small adults, more or less able to interact with grown-ups and participate in mature society once the basic skills of physical labor and reading competence allowed them to venture from the home more and more until independence could be attained (Feld, 22). Colonists placed their children either in the homes of others or, as technology enabled the industrial revolution, in factories and other locations of modern industry near the home. Writes Feld, ?The coterminous location of home and workplace and the limited range of occupations enabled young people to learn most of their required economic skills either from their parents or from surrounding adults and quickly to achieve adult productivity,? (21). More importantly, children from a relatively young age were expected to assume adult culpability for crimes they committed. Punishments for children rivaled those for adults.
As time marched on, childhood became a socially constructed stage of life. Coupled with a rise in the traditional family view of domesticity (men at work, women isolated as homemakers), new concepts of child rearing took hold in the middle and upper classes. Instead of exposing children to the world, ?Deferral of adult responsibilities rather than assumption of adult roles became the child-rearing norm,? writes...