Juveniles include delinquents, state offenders, and dependent/neglected children. Only delinquents commit acts that are defined as criminal for an adult. Criminal elements may use delinquents in the crimes for which an adult would be sentenced to death. A capital crime is not an excuse for not being tried as an adult. A youngster who is capable of taking a life once may be tempted to do it again, after serving a sentence in a juvenile prison. Everything depends on the seriousness of the crime. Juvenile places of detention are overcrowded. So, some juveniles may have a traumatic experience, housed in adult jails. Here, criminogenic influences may ruin any hopes of a positive transformation. Delinquency cases amount to about 1, 5 millions annually. More than half of them are property crimes. In 1994, 12, 000 delinquency cases were moved to adult criminal court by a process of certification after a transfer hearing. A disposition hearing may sentence up to 20 percent of delinquents to imprisonment.
Only six percent of juvenile crimes are violent. About a third of all juvenile arrests for homicide occur in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, and New York. Most juvenile crimes are gang-related. Are you ready to label a teenager a life-long criminal? Is it just to blame this person for unfavorable living conditions and unlucky circumstances that led to a criminal act?
Adolescents and adults must be treated differently. First, juveniles are less responsible for their acts than adults. Second, they are less protective. Third, juveniles’ courts should not be modeled on the adult criminal system. Fourth, juvenile gangs are different from adult gangs. The threat of juvenile crime leads to more emphasis on punishment than on juveniles’ rights. First, rehabilitation has poor results. Second, organized delinquency is a real threat to metropolitan areas. Third, repeated crimes are committed. Juvenile courts defend juvenile rights.
They do not hold juveniles to the standards of accountability similar to those of adults. Juvenile courts give a priority to treatment, not detention. They call for the social environment that nurtures delinquency being effectively changed. Juvenile courts’ primary mission is to serve the best interests of children.
Unless preventive interventions are taken to involve juveniles in positive human activities, juvenile delinquents will be doomed to face justice as adults.