Juveniles, Criminal justice and Death Penalty

1. Problem Statement

1.1. The Problem

Juvenile justice systems handle juvenile delinquents with various problems. After juvenile delinquents conclude their placement, they are taken back to the society. The institutions that handle the psychotherapy for juvenile delinquents are required to deal with a wide range of problems.

  1. Making sure that juvenile delinquents get adequate placement and intervention programs so that they may not return to criminal acts again.
  2. Ensuring that juvenile delinquents are nurtured appropriately so that they interact with other people in the society.
  3. Making sure that race and ethnicity does not influence juvenile sentencing.
  4. Why death penalty should not apply to cases in which juvenile offenders are receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

1.2 The Problem to be studied

The purpose of this study is to probe the existing place, family therapy, intervention, and prevention programs that are employed to help juvenile delinquents return back to society and become productive. Placement and rehabilitative programs may be tailored to the needs of juveniles such as age and personal experiences. Race may affect the type of intervention in various ways. Siegel (2008) indicated that it is the juvenile delinquent age and level of offense that structures the type of intervention program to be put in place. Minority juvenile delinquents are sanctioned more severely if their victim is white than if their target is a fellow minority group member; minority defendants who kill whites are more likely to get the death penalty than are those who kill other minorities.

Death penalty for children has little deterrent effect on youngsters who are impulsive and do not have a realistic view of the destructiveness of their misdeeds or their consequences. Siegel & Welsh (2008) argues that the condemnation of children makes no measurable contribution to the legitimate goals of punishment. Experts say that condemning any minor to death violates contemporary standards of decency. It is also important to note that the capacity of young for change, growth and rehabilitation makes the death penalty particularly harsh and inappropriate (Siegel & Welsh, 2008). However, arguments for the juvenile death penalty center on retribution and deterrence. Retribution is the notion of an eye for an eye or payback. Retribution should not be used to make death penalty judgments because violence may be used to punish someone without calling the police or using the justice to address grievances.

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According to Siegel & Welsh (2008) during the past decade, there have been a number of attempts to create rational sentencing in juvenile justice. The goal has been to reduce judicial discretion and to toughen sentencing practices and create mandatory periods of incarceration for juveniles who commit serious crimes. State sentencing trends indicate that punishment and accountability in addition to rehabilitation have become equally important in juvenile justice policy. Research also shows that the disproportionate number of minority group members in prison is not a function of racial bias by judges but rather reflects actual racial and ethnic differences in the crime rate (Hess & Drowns, 2009).

Critics remain concerned however about the unacceptably high rate of false positives that result in the unnecessary incarceration of hundreds of individuals. Lawrence & Hesse (2009) noted that when judges attempt to predict dangerousness they make mistakes. False positive errors of 50% or more of offenders are common in prediction decision resulting in incarceration of numerous offenders who pose no risk to society and a significant impact in cost and allocation of resources on the justice process.

The disproportionate overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in juvenile and adult criminal justice system raises issues of justice, fairness and equity. Disparities associated with juvenile race or ethnicity occurs at all stages of juvenile justice system such as arrest, pre-trial release, attribution and placement. Race-linked notions of individual responsibility are tied to an assumption that considerable juvenile justice rehabilitation resources have been exhausted to no avail in the fight against youthful crime.

1.3. The Characteristics of Those who are affected by this Problem

Continuing controversy surrounds a juvenile’s ability to waive his rights concerning searches and interrogation. A court jurisdiction over a neglected or dependent child already may assume that the child is not competent, and jurisdiction over underage offenders in delinquency and criminal cases may need to examine the competency issue as well. It is important to note that some states have reduced the maximum age of under age to seventeen while others to sixteen. Despite this age threshold, all states provide for processing juveniles in adult criminals court at the discretion of the prosecutor and or the juvenile court judge.

Hess & Drowns (2009) says that developments with the evolving juvenile justice system in the United States has direct effect on the relationship between children and their parents, children and the state and parents and the state. Juvenile delinquents under the age of 16 with clean records should be able to benefit from early treatment and placement programs. The differences between juvenile and adult offenders are too well marked and well understood to risk allowing youthful person to receive death penalty despite insufficient culpability.

1.2. The Population of Persons who are affected

The population affected by juvenile delinquency 2012 in USA is approximately 73.8 million youth who are the age of eighteen years. Research from the United States Census Bureau estimated that courts with juvenile jurisdiction disposed more than 1.3 million delinquencies. This group is targeted by the study because in 2010 alone there were 225 arrests for violent crime index for every 100,000 youth aged between 10 and 17 years. The study id fundamental because the processing of juveniles as if they were juveniles is meant to satisfy community desire for retribution and concern about public safety.

2. Study Rationale

2.1 Why the Problem Merits the Attention of Social Work Professionals

This problem merits the attention of a social worker because choosing the proper mode of juvenile corrections can be difficult. The attention of social work professional is required because many youths in the juvenile and criminal justice system lack adjudicative competence because of developmental immaturity. According to Siegel & Welsh (2010), social workers hope for rehabilitating juvenile offenders and resolving the problems of juvenile crime lies in community treatment programs. Social work professionals articulate that such problems are smaller than secure facilities for juveniles, operate in a community setting and offer creative approaches to treating the offender.

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2.2 The Consequences for the Persons Affected by the Problem

If the issue of juvenile correction is not addressed well or better understood, young offenders may do more harm than good. Siegel & Welsh (2008) says that it exposes them to prison-like conditions and to more experienced delinquents without giving them the benefit of constructive treatment programs. The execution of juvenile offenders does not contribute to the goal of deterrence (Levesque, 2006). Juveniles have a lesser culpability for criminal punishment and lesser ability to fully comprehend and to function within the various stages of the legal systems adjudicating them.

2.2 How Increased Understanding of the Problem Specified is Useful or Beneficial

Yes. Increased understanding of the problem specified is useful and beneficial for social worker practitioners, educators and researchers in their work. This is because it ensures that social workers treat offenders in way that can help them re-establish forms of acceptable behavior in a community setting. Social worker practitioners, educators and researchers are able to maximize the liberty of the individual and at the same time vindicate the authority of the law and protect the public (Siegel & Welsh, 2010).

3. Literature Review

3.1 The Main Themes/Research Questions that have been addressed by the Studies

Early, Chapman & Hand (2012) in their article “Family-Focused Juvenile Re-entry Services: A Quasi-Experimental Design Evaluation of Recidivism Outcomes” used quasi experimental research to examine the effects of residential confinement and reduction of juvenile recidivism. The major research questions addressed in this article was if family focused treatment juvenile corrections minimize the length of stay compared to standard programming. The second question in this study was to determine the group which achieved lower rates of committing the crime the second and third time after getting family related re-entry services and those getting standardized aftercare services.

The study used a sample of 354 cases which included 201 cases of youth released from standard re-entry services. Early, Chapman & Hand(2012) observed the number of output and outcome measures in relation to the research questions. Data was obtained from St. Joseph County Probate Court which keeps jurisdiction over all juveniles cases. The sample characteristics involved 88% percent male, 54% non-white aged between 16 to 18 years. The sample also included 47% of white youth and 44% African American while 9% were categorized as multiracial and 7% represented Hispanic populations.

Greenwood (2008) in his article “Juvenile Justice: Prevention and Intervention Programs for Juvenile Offenders” examines the process of preventing delinquency in juveniles. Greenwood (2008) in his article outlines how to prevent young lives from being wasted at early ages and at the same prevents the onset of adult crimes. Greenwood reviews several questions on delinquency prevention programs. The first research question addressed by Greenwood in his article is determining how program success is measured. The second research question establishing how jurisdictions can shift towards a more evidence based practices (Greenwood, 2008).

The decision making regarding placement of juvenile offenders requires court officers to consider the types of charges listed against them. Asplin, Marsh & Beighley (2011) in their article “Demographic and Offense-Related Variables in Pennsylvania Court-Ordered Placements for Juveniles Journal of Knowledge and Best Practices in Juvenile Justice and Psychology” noted that predictable patterns were evident in almost all placements in the county of Pennsylvania. However they noted that gender brought huge variations where female offenders were placed in less restrictive care than their male counter parts. The research question addressed in this study is investigating the pattern of offenses in different court-ordered placements and its relationships among felony, misdemeanor, summary and status offenses.

Asplin, Marsh & Beighley (2011) in their article selected sample participants from records of juvenile placements between 2004 and 2006 availed by Pennsylvania county juvenile office. The inclusion criteria were that all participants were under eighteen years old. A wide range of offenses such as felony, misdemeanor and status offences were included in the study. The sample used in the study included 374 juveniles out of which 251 were males while 123 were females. This represented 67.1% and 32.9% respectively.

Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber (2004) in their article explored the causes and correlates in juvenile delinquent behavior. The study utilized a longitudinal design in which a groups of children were chosen and followed over a period of time. Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber (2004) utilized sample of youths from three different places which included Denver, Pittsburgh and Rochester. In Denver the survey respondents included 1,527 children between the ages of 7 and 15 years. Out of the sample chosen by the researchers, 806 were males while 721 were females. In Pittsburgh, the study utilized a sample of 1,517 boys. Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber (2004) noted that out of the total number of boys selected, 250 of them were selected randomly. In Rochester, the study utilized a sample of 729 boys and 271 girls between the ages of 13 and 14 years.

The research conducted by Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber (2004) provides an analysis of delinquent behavior since 1987 to the present. The samples have a strong representation of serious, violent and critical offenders. The causes and correlates study presents a variety of topics which are associated with juvenile delinquency and justice. The study reveals that high levels of aggression are quite common among the youths.

Acoca (2010) in her article “Juvenile Justice: Investing in Girls: A 21st Century Strategy” noted that there is a need to come up with strategies to reduce the increasing entry of girls into the juvenile justice system. She says that the number of girls entering the juvenile justice system has been increasing steadily to 22% of all juvenile arrests. Acoca (2010) in her study seeks to examine the characteristics of girls at the risk of being taken to the juvenile justice system. The second research question is to establish if girls are customary taken into juvenile justice systems for less serious crimes than their male counterparts.

To gain a clear perspective of the female offenders in the juvenile system, Acoca (2010) conducted a research by accessing the juvenile justice system databases of California. She also interviewed about 200 girls in county juvenile halls. The results reveal that there were relationships between family issues and the pattern of arrest and incarceration. The study further revealed that 36% of the girls in the juvenile system were probation violators. In addition, 34% of the girls interviewed reported person offenses ranging from assault, robbery, homicide and weapon offences.

Regan & Alderson (2003) in their article “The Death Penalty for Juvenile Offenders” noted that 10% of those responsible for homicide are less than 18 years of age. The also reported that juveniles account for one out of six murder arrests in the United States. The question addressed in this research paper is the importance of the reviewing death penalty for juveniles. Regan & Alderson (2003) in their article also review current legislation pertaining death penalty for juveniles. In study conducted across different states in USA, Regan & Alderson (2003) found out that five states use seventeen years as the minimum age of death penalty while 22 states permit the death penalty under the age of 18 years. Research also shows that Texas and Virginia account for 76% of juvenile executions in the entire country. In their article, Regan & Alderson (2003) noted that since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 22 executions for juvenile offenders have been carried out. This accounts for 2.5% of the total executions since that time.

Soung (2011) in his article “Social and Biological constructions of Youth: Implications for Juvenile and Racial Equity” explored the effects of biological and social constructs in youth and racial bias associated with the juvenile justice system. The question Soung (2011) seeks to answer in his study is to establish the correlations between social and biological constructions of youth and implications for juvenile and racial equity. Though Soung (2011) does not present key data findings, his research indicates that juvenile justice systems continue to treat youth differently based on their racial identities. The level of administration of justice including death penalty and attribution in the United States has emerged unevenly for different races and ethnicities. Soung (2011) argues that institutional racism by police and the courts is still an element of daily life in the African American community, a factor that undermines faith in social and political institutions and weakness confidence in the justice system.

3.2 A Comparison and Contrast of Key Findings

In their study,Asplin, Marsh & Beighley (2011) noted that the number of juveniles placed in the county was greatly determined by ethnic composition based on the entire population of the county. It was noted that the big difference in racial composition is as a result the large number of placements of juveniles from the urban area with a larger minority population. On the other hand, Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber (2004) established that placement decisions are not always carried out fairly or equitably and there is evidence that minorities are waived at a rate that is greater than their representation in the population. While Asplin, Marsh & Beighley (2011) noted that just over 42% of all waived youth are African Americans, Thornberry, Huizinga & Loeber (2004) indicated that the number of placements involving African American youth decreased to 31%. Another striking finding is that there was a similar pattern of placements in misdemeanors and felony offenses.

In his research, Greenwood (2008) does not address the issue of placement in depth. He however explorers the impact of prevention and Intervention programs where the environment plays an important role in shaping behavior. Through the prevention and intervention programs, Greenwood (2008) presents and graphical representation of family therapy programs and their impact on combating crime amongst the juveniles. While Greenwood (2008) explores the role of prevention and intervention programs on juvenile delinquency, Early, Chapman & Hand (2012) focused on the impact of family focused re-entry programs. Compared to Greenwood (2008), Early, Chapman & Hand (2012) noted that there is need for a more efficient involvement of parents and family members in juvenile correction processes.

According to the study presented byAcoca (2010), the effect of family stressors can have a significant impact on children behavior. Effective parenting can help neutralize the effect of girl’s placement in the juvenile system. Acoca (2010), Greenwood (2008) and Early, Chapman & Hand (2012) agree that today more than 100,000 juveniles are being held in either privately run or publicly managed juvenile correctional facilities. About 35% of placements are held for person oriented offenses, 25% for property offenses, 9% for drug offenses, 11% for public order offenses and 16% for technical violations. This implies that the efforts made in recent years to keep status offenders out of the institution seem to have paid off.

The research conducted by Regan & Alderson (2003) offers a brief overview of the current legislation about juvenile death penalty. The research supports the growing body of scientific research supporting the conclusion that juvenile is developmentally immature, particularly in regard to brain development and ability to control impulses and plan appropriately for consequences of actions. The presents key findings and data indicating that a vast majority of juveniles on death row have histories of being abused, suffer from a host of mental illnesses and were addicted to drugs at the time of this offense.

Unlike Regan & Alderson (2003), Soung (2011) in his research holds that evidence of some racial bias does exist in the justice system; there is enough correspondence between official and self-reported data to conclude that racial differences in the crime rate are real in other word race matters. The study should however clarify that if for example African American youths are arrested at disproportionately high rate for crimes such as robbery and assault, it is as a result of actual offending rates rather than bias on the part of the criminal justice system. Soung (2011) in his research should have provided evidence based on data corrected from various sources to ascertain that race matters in juvenile justice systems.

3.3 A Critique of the Adequacy of the Research

The research presents up to date information on the impact of juvenile placement and intervention programs in the juvenile justice system. The studies yield several interesting and conflicting results. Recent studies by Asplin, Marsh & Beighley (2011) on the “Demographic and Offense-Related Variables in Pennsylvania Court-Ordered Placements for Juveniles” found out that they have huge impact on the reduction of juvenile violent crimes rates in the states that have adopted them. Other studies by Greenwood (2008) have found that juveniles presented with harsh prevention and intervention programs may be viewed as dangerous and incapable of being rehabilitated. Family-focused juvenile re-entry services differ from other juvenile justice programs hence most instances young people determine the disposition of their cases.

The studies have not fully addressed the ever increasing serious juvenile crime rate in general and about the causes of violent acts committed by children in particular. Although placements play a key role in the rehabilitation of juveniles as primary dispositional goals, the studies about juvenile placements should be based on the least detrimental alternatives. The studies should have addressed the need to remove status offenders from the juvenile justice system and restrict their entry into institutional programs. The studies should have addressed how to create separate or intermediate juvenile systems so as to better handle violent juvenile offenders. The research should provide a comprehensive view of death penalty and attribution and at the same time provide a conclusive evidence of the effect of racial background on juvenile justice system.

Records, annual reports and daily journals of superintendents should be examined to establish the significant disparity between the theory and practice of juvenile incarceration. Due to the softening of attitudes toward crime and criminals, the realization of attempting to control crime through incarceration is costly and produces no significant reduction in juvenile crime rates. The studies indicate that many criminal justice experts point to research evidence that greater use of incarceration may increase rather than decrease crime (Lawrence & Hesse, 2009).

4. Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

4.1 Psychological theory

Psychological theory was important in the study of juvenile delinquency during the opening decades of the 20the century (Binder, Geis & Bruce, 2001). Various experts view the cause of delinquency as essentially psychological. This is because most behavior labeled delinquent such as violence, theft, and sexual misconduct seem to be symptomatic of some underlying psychological problem. Psychologists point out that many delinquent youths have poor home lives, destructive relationships with neighbors, friends, teachers and conflicts with authority figures in general (Siegel & Welsh, 2008).

These relationships seem to indicate a disturbed personality structure. In addition, many studies of incarcerated youths indicate that the youth’s personalities are marked by negative, antisocial behavior characteristics. Siegel & Welsh (2008) further noted that since much delinquent behavior occur among youths in every racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic group; psychologists view it as a function of emotional and mental disturbance, rather than purely a result of social factors such as poverty, racism and class conflict. Binder, Geis & Bruce (2001) noted that There are three prominent psychological perspectives on delinquency which include psychodynamic, the behavioral and cognitive.

4.2 Research Question

Does death penalties, attribution, prevention, intervention and placement in juvenile justice system help juvenile delinquents to adjust to more constructive life as opposed to going back to crime or criminal acts again?

5. Conclusion

The separation of juvenile and adult offenders reflects society’s concern for the plight of children. This means that protection and treatment are the bywords of the juvenile justice system. The death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for offenders under eighteen years. This is reaffirmed in the studies by the fact that United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the death penalty for juveniles. Retribution and deterrence the penological justifications for the death penalty should be applied with lesser force to juveniles than to adults. The need for placement of juveniles comes amid the public concerns that there is an increasing number of violent youths hence there have been efforts to tighten the juvenile justice system and treat some delinquents much more like adult offenders. It is therefore important to note that the juvenile justice system is caught between the futility of punishing juveniles and the public’s demand that something be done about serious juvenile crime. Juvenile experts should therefore continue to press for judicial fairness, rehabilitation, and innovative programs for juvenile offenders.


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