Treatment of Juvenile Offenders in the American Criminal System
While appraising the law as it appertains to minors, the American criminal system classifies crimes committed by minors as status offenses. Status offenses refer to a class of wrongdoings that only apply as such to juvenile offenders; they do not apply as such to crimes committed by adults (Raine, 1993). As a juvenile offender is arraigned in court, the key purpose is to reform and rehabilitate the minor in a way that is likely to reduce the reoccurrence of a repeat crime. The key goal, as stipulated in the US Constitution as it appertains to juvenile offenders is to reform and rehabilitate as opposed to retribution. The treatment of a first time juvenile offender is likely to be more lenient as opposed to that of a repeat offender.
Professor Annabel McKinley, a legal tutor at the University of Columbia, explains that juvenile courts virtually never incarcerate first time status offenders; usually, the courts incarcerate juvenile offenders for repeat offenses (Ryan et al, 1997). This is to say, for instance, that if a minor is caught peddling marijuana or in a habitual consumption of alcoholic beverages, the minor can be found delinquent under the auspices of a juvenile court system. In the US States of Georgia, New Orleans, and Washington DC, the law requires people aged below 18 years to be home before 11pm; those found out after this designated curfew are held at truancy centers before a guardian or parent can claim them (Raine, 1993).
The court will respect the rights of the accused; this has been an issue of contention since the Miranda case where the guilty defendant’s confession became inadmissible based on a technicality; they failed to notify the defendant of his Fifth Amendment right to assistance of counsel. In order to avoid a repeat of the same, US Courts treat the rights of the accused as a priority, which include the right not to self-incriminate by volunteering incriminatory evidence, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and that the State would provide one in case the suspect cannot foot legal costs. The law unequivocally states that any suspect must be informed on this basic procedures failure to which the case would be thrown out under the auspices of the decision in Miranda.
Prisoner Experience Behind Bars
The experience behind bars in America is probably just as bleak as it is in other developed nations. The most common experience is harassment of first timers. This harassment may be in the form of coercion, duress, and threats as well as solicitation of sexual favors. Jails are full of bullies showcasing their might to rein terror and often factions emerge demanding allegiance. Besides violent experiences, the state of the prison facility itself may cause equally psychological torture.
As budgetary constraints persist, the quality of prison service is likely is wear thin as correctional officials struggle to meet soaring costs amid creeping inflation. As projected in various reports, a growing number of technical violators of parole and other terms of release is presently causing further strain in federal budget. This brings about the problem of overcrowding and strain in shared facilities within the prisons. Sending offenders back to prison, especially those who are technical violators of community service and supervision conditions has escalated in recent years, which consequently adds to the problem of overcrowding.
Legal considerations aside, the issue of capital punishment is a moral issue as well since it involves the termination of human life through the infliction of death through medical or any other artificial method. Respect for the sanctity of human life is perhaps the only value that appreciates human dignity. However, debate rages on whether it is moral to respect the life of a person who does not respect the life other human beings. This is where the law comes in – to establish a middle ground depending on the circumstances of each case. Capital punishment therefore poses an ethical dilemma (Pierce 89).
Read also Landmark Cases – Capital Punishment
The judicial ethical code requires the court system to uphold the letter of the law without fear or favor. Information retrieved from the annals of juvenile trial law, the American court system has breached the ethical code in the treatment of juvenile offenders involving serious crimes. The law unequivocally revokes the application of the death penalty to a class of offenders who lack ‘legal sanity.’ One such case involved the execution of a minor Scott Hain in Oklahoma. The defendant – Scott Hain – was 17 years old when he was arrested an arraigned in court where he faced felony murder charges. According to the US Constitutional dispensation, individuals below age 18 are considered minors and as such, they have no legal competency to be tried as adults notwithstanding the motive or nature of the crime. In view of the above, Scott Hain committed the alleged murders as a minor and should therefore have been tried as a juvenile offender (Pierce 89). There is no denying – given the facts of the case – that Scott Hain committed a heinous crime; capital felony murder is a serious act even in the eyes of international law. However, there are mitigating circumstances both in the US Constitution and in international law. No court should order the infliction of death as a way of punishing defendants who fall in the restricted category of offenders. Such offenders include the mentally insane and juvenile offenders. The issues of mitigation for juvenile offenders are based on the fact that they are considered immature people whose judgment, cognitive abilities and impulse control are not fully developed.
In the correctional system, there is an ethical issue arising from the incarceration of convicted offenders in privately owned facilities. Amid claims of crime profiteering, the UN Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns with the privatization of criminal incarceration, which is a pervasive trend in the United States. The drive for profit makes owners overlook the problems inmates face in the facilities and look forward to convicting more of them.
Prior to sentencing, every court ought to conduct intense overview of the facts of the case and how the law applies in such circumstances. Similarly, it is important to remember that the key role of the court is to rehabilitate and not to punish offenders. As such, a competent juvenile court will most likely evaluate the record of the suspected offenders in order to establish whether there is a growing pattern.
The US correctional system could benefit from the establishment of functioning diversion programs run by the federal government. The underlying rationale of a diversion program is to relief the courts and correctional facilities of the burden of direct involvement to save on budgetary spending. They enable suspected offenders to avoid a criminal record by completing certain designated requirements, which include restitution and victim relief, completion of community service hours, and rehabilitation.
Considering that a good number of incarcerated offenders are doing time for misdemeanors, experts have suggested that the US correctional system should enforce diversion programs for non-serious offenses.
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