Law Article Review – Juveniles in Court

Soulier, M., & Scott, C. (2010). Juveniles in Court. Harvard Review of Psychiatry18(6), 317-325.

The Author’s Main Points Regarding Abolishing the Juvenile Courts

Soulier & Scott (2010) begin their article by providing a historical development of the juvenile justice system in the United States, from the initial refuge centers or reformatories to the modern juvenile courts. The author pints that the refuge centers were accused from negligence, corruption and general discrimination of the juveniles from minority groups. These factors and the new moral understanding that had developed led to the creation of the first juvenile court in Illinois later in other states.  However, the authors disparage these juvenile courts citing numerous reasons.

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One of the main points outlined by the author as the reason that the juvenile courts must be abolished is that they are not different from the adult criminal courts. Initially, the juvenile criminal justice system was modeled to be rehabilitative in nature (Soulier & Scott, 2010). However, through a series of several Supreme Court decisions juvenile offenders have been granted the rights that are accorded to the adults in the adult criminal justice system. For example, the author asserts the Kent vs. United States, which allowed the juvenile to be given waiver and allowed to stand trial just like an adult in the standard adult criminal court (pp. 320). This has dissuaded the juvenile courts from serving their core rehabilitative function but rather appear now to be too dissimilar to the standard adult criminal courts.

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In addition to the continued criminalization of the juvenile courts, the other reason why the authors assert the need for abolishment of the juvenile courts is that the juvenile courts offer little in the protection of the rights of the juvenile offenders. The authors point that the juvenile court judges enjoyed broad discretions that went against the fundamental rights of accused like the one enjoyed by adult offenders, for instance the detention.

In addition, the juvenile courts should be abolished according to the authors, since the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act enacted by the Congress, which established the Office of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Preventions. This office provided federal funds to the states that upheld the deinstitutionalization of status of the juvenile offenders and the separation of adult and juvenile offenders even when in the juveniles are placed in adult jails. The removal of detention due to truancy and the separation of juvenile and adult offenders as covered under the act paves way for the abolishment of the juvenile courts. 

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Strengths and Weakness of the Authors’ Arguments

            The major strength in the arguments provided by the authors is that juvenile courts do not protect the rights of the juveniles. According to (Hile, 2009) the failure of the juvenile courts to protect the rights of the juveniles by acting as a court and at the same time as the social service make its inefficient in its operations. In addition, the fact that the Supreme Court rulings have made several rulings that have granted the juveniles the rights to enjoy rights as do adult criminals makes the juvenile courts inefficient and need to be abolished (Soulier & Scott, 2010). The other strength in the author’s argument is that the juvenile courts no longer serve under their initial model of rehabilitation but rather work on the broad discretions granted to the juvenile court judges, which subjects juveniles to gross violations such as detention without trial for as long as until they reach the ages of 21.

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            Although the authors provide strong arguments in favor of the closure of the juvenile courts, some of the arguments are weak. For instance, the authors points to the heightened rights which have been determined by the Supreme Court having enhanced the rights of the juveniles yet they point that they are not afforded appropriate legal protections.  The authors even provide an example of the lack of jury trial and detention without trial, which interestingly they corroborate through Supreme Court rulings that have allowed the juveniles the right to jury trial and detention based on specific considerations such as determined by the juvenile court such as a threat to self or to the community (pp. 320).

Reasons in Support of the Ideas of the Authors’

            Although it is imperative that the juvenile offenders be given some form of punishment it should be observed that just like among the adult offenders, the punishment must be proportional to the offence and with the realization that the juvenile crimes are a product of their developmental factors. According to (Feld, 2018), the juvenile court decisions such as risk assessments that inform juvenile detention decisions have been found to be inferior with the actuarial risks assessment. According to the authors, Schall vs. Martin that held that upheld New York preventive detention have been criticised by researchers. The authors assert the clinical and statistical prediction comparisons have shown that actuarial risks assessment instruments are superior over professional judgments (421). In addition, (Bowman, 2018) found that there was no evidence which shows that the juvenile courts have directly led to reduced juvenile delinquency and rates of recidivism, asserting the need to abolish it.

What the Article Contributes to the Field of Criminal Justice and its Implications

            The article provides timely reminder to the lawmakers and practitioners in the criminal justice system that juvenile criminal offenders deserve equal treatment as the adult criminal offenders.  The article provides immense information on the need for impartial and equal treatment of the juvenile criminal offenders on the basis of the Eight Amendment.

            If and when the suggestions provided in the article are followed, it means that the society must determine other alternative measures of handling juvenile criminal offenders. Since the article proposes the juvenile courts to be abolished while pointing towards the success of rehabilitation efforts in reduction of recidivism, it would mean that the juvenile justice department must shift its focus on rehabilitation efforts, while their juvenile criminal judgments must ensure the preservation of the juvenile offender rights.

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