It is estimated that there are over 70 million children in theUnited States. This represents all individuals in the population whoare under the age of 18 years and at least a quarter of the country’spopulation. This number is expected to increase progressively overthe years (Howell et al., 2014). It illustrates the magnitude ofchallenges and issues that affect young children and youths in thesociety, among them juvenile delinquency and the likelihood of thembeing tried and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system.The issue of children being engaged in antisocial and criminal acts,some of which are violent, has been a significant criminology concernfor many years. For example, a high percentage of youths engage indrunken driving, violence, sexual assaults and drug crimes amongothers (Howell et al., 2014).
Until the 20th century, delinquent youths were treated as adults andtried in the conventional criminal justice system. Although age wasan important consideration, the punishment was mainly determined bythe magnitude of the crime. For example, violent crimes such asmurder called for death penalty irrespective of the age of theoffender. This has changed progressively in the last one century asjuvenile courts emerged and continued to develop (Peak, 2014).Although it is faced with a broad range of challenges, there needs tobe tremendous progress in the development of a justice system thattake care of the unique needs of children involved in criminalactivities. Several aspects of the modern world have contribution tothe approach to deviant behaviors among the youths. Among them hasbeen the development deemed research and know-how in neurodevelopmentscience. Consequently, social and cognitive development of the youngoffenders is considered in sentencing, which focuses onrehabilitation rather that punishment. Nonetheless, this does notshield the youths from being accountable for their antisocialactivities (Zimring & Tanenhaus, 2014).
There is a consensus that children should be treated differently inthe criminal justice system. This includes having separate courtsystems and correctional facilities that cater for their needs.However, there is divergent on the age at which an individual isconsidered to be an adult. For example, in some jurisdiction, adelinquent youth is transferred to the conventional justice system atan age less than 18 years (Howell et al., 2014).
A model juvenile court system will be dependent on several factors.Most importantly, the magnitude of the act will determine theapproach taken to rehabilitate the young offender. Thus, they can beclassified into three broad categories. Delinquent children are youngpeople who are involved in serious criminal activities such asfelonies, violence, and misdemeanors. These offenses are likely tonecessitate more severe actions against the youth. They can also bestatus offenders, which include a child being involved in antisocialactivities that are not considered to be a crime if committed by anadult (Zimring & Tanenhaus, 2014). For example, it is wrong for a13 years girl to run away from home or disobey curfews. This does notapply to an adult woman. Another category of youths who may requirebeing considered by the justice system are individuals who aredependent. They are unlikely to live a normal life without adequatesupport and supervision.
In the United States, three-quarters of cases involving minors arereferred to the juvenile courts. However, there are an increasednumber of serious crimes being committed by youths in the society(Peak, 2014). It is important to note that majority of the cases thatare transferred to the children courts involves status offenses.Thus, if a child participates in a violent crime, he or she is likelyto be tried in the adult justice system. This has a wide range ofimplications, especially if he or she is sentenced and incarceratedas an adult. As a result, the youth is likely to be hardened ratherthan being rehabilitated, increasing the likelihood of recidivism(Zimring & Tanenhaus, 2014).
In an ideal children court system, the age, rather than thecrime committed, is the most important criterion for determiningwhere the offender should be tried. States have varying laws on agerestrictions. Under common law, an individual below the age of sevenyears cannot be held accountable for his or her actions. However, theage at which a person is considered to be an adult and thustransferred to the adult system is a controversial issue. In manyjurisdictions, an individual below 18 years is considered to be ajuvenile (Howell et al., 2014).
There are several ways through which the criminal justice system, ingeneral, can address the needs of young offenders. Police canexercise discretion when dealing with incidences that involveunderage lawbreakers. This includes warning and release or referralto a community-based agency (Howell et al., 2014). Consequently, onlyserious crimes will result in detention. In cases where there is aneed to refer the kid to a juvenile court, a detention hearing isnecessary before the delinquent youth can be taken in custody. In theadjudication process, while the judicial system needs to take intoconsideration the age and development milestones of the offender, heor she should be afforded all the rights of an accused person (Howellet al., 2014).
Howell, J. C. et al, (2014). A Handbook for Evidence-BasedJuvenile Justice Systems. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
Peak, J. K. (2015). Justice Administration: Police, Courts andCorrections Management. 8th Ed. Pearson Education.
Zimring, F. E. & Tanenhaus, D. S. (2014). Choosing the Futurefor American Juvenile Justice. New York: New York UniversityPress.