Recommendations for Improvements to the Juvenile Justice System

Recommendations for improvements to the juvenile justice system are needed from experts in the field. Why?

The Juvenile Justice System is in danger. Some would like to eliminate the Juvenile Justice System because of problems created by politicians unrelated to that system. What can be done?

The Essay: Recommendations for Improvements to the Juvenile Justice System

by C. Jeff Oakes, Karen McCurdy Baker, Isabel Morales, Jose Mendez

From its inception in 1899, the juvenile justice system has operated on the assumption that youths are less capable than their adult counterparts of making rational, well-founded choices; automatically then juveniles are also less culpable.

Hence, the system is designed so as to encourage positive change in youths who appear before juvenile judges.  Beginning in the 1980s, this position was radically altered as a result of public pressure (Champion, 2010).

During this time, a tougher approach began to be taken in an effort to curb juvenile crime; this approach continues today.  The increased use of waivers and transfers combined with legislative means to ensure that juveniles who commit certain crimes are treated as adults has had negative consequences.

Among the consequences is an increase in recidivism and a general rise in adult crime, as juveniles are groomed by criminal mentors while incarcerated (Urbina & White, 2009; Redding, 1999; OJJDP, 2012; Canadian Review of Sociology, 2011).

To reverse this trend, several steps must be taken at every level of involvement with juveniles.

The Juvenile Justice System & Community Involvement

The community plays a large role in helping juveniles stay on the right path.  Many communities have programs that help the youth stay focused and have some sort of after-school activities to participate in.  That was not always the case with community programs.

“Originally, these programs were intended to alleviate prison and jail overcrowding by establishing community-based organizations that could accommodate some of the overflow of prison-bound offenders” (Clear and Dammer, 2003).

Such changes are good for juveniles in the system; instead of punishing it is better to rehabilitate so they don’t experience the same problems. Communities need to concentrate on better solutions to prevent incarceration of most youths. However, many communities are poor and don’t have the money or the resources to lend a hand.

English: August 26: Congressman Rahm Emanuel a...
English: August 26: Congressman Rahm Emanuel announces the Juvenile Gun Crime Reporting Act at a meeting with youth and staff from the Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network upon the release of their annual Teen Gun Survey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s why the state needs to assist these cities or communities to help deal with their problems before they get worse.  Instead of building more prisons, the juvenile system needs to make more youth centers to help kids that are high-risk and have no one to turn to. Sometimes the family needs help and that is why it takes a community effort to help pick up the slack.

The juvenile system is like a yard with weeds:  In order to resolve the issue you need to get to the root of the problem.  Many states subsequently have passed laws that are “aimed at funding local government units” for the creation of “community facilities that could provide services and other resources to juveniles (Champion, D. 2010).

Law Enforcement & the Juvenile Justice System

Law enforcement clearly plays a big role in the juvenile system.  We need more police patrolling streets not just to arrest and put people away but to help get to know the community.  Getting to know the neighbors and families that live in the community helps police get more comfortable in the environment.  It forms a neighborhood watch; the next time police officers need assistance with anything, the people of the community will not hesitate to help.

“Police officers make up the front line or [the] first line of defense in the prevention and control of street crime committed by juveniles, although the effectiveness of this line in crime control continues to be questioned” (Champion, D. 2010).

Getting the city and the state involved in the juvenile system can help turn juveniles back in the right direction.  Officers need to take a personal interest in youths rather than simply stopping and harassing them with Terry-stop questions.

The community and the police department need to work as one not against each other.  Law enforcement will never have the support of the community until it can show it supports the community.

Courts & the Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice systems courts have a due process to follow and to give the juvenile the best sentencing or rehabilitation he or she needs to get back into society.  The juvenile due processes are there to work together with the juvenile, family, and the victims involved in the crime.

English: High School for Law Enforcement and C...
English: High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Español: Escuela Secundaria para Fuerzas de la Ley y Justicia Penal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The court officials guide the juvenile in the process; the outcome will be decided by the judge; and ideally, the sentencing is appropriate for the youthful offender.

The juvenile system has history that begins in the 1900s.  In the period from 1900 to 1918 century the America had taken notice of the woman’s suffrage movements campaign; this movement opposed child labor of greater than eight-hour work days.

The Progressive Era returned to the United States and gives a new beginning for the youth to live in the community (History of Americans Juvenile Justice System, 2012).

In the 1960s there was a jurisdiction issue involving persons under the age of 18; these were being transferred into the adult system.  The premise was the equal protectiuon clause of the 14th Amendment. It states,

”No state shall make or enforce any law which abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without the process of law, nor deny to any person within it jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1968 (History of Americans Juvenile Justice System n.d.).

The juvenile system has funding for the juvenile courts. Yet the system has difficulty getting funding for juvenile care and needs.

For example in 2007 the state of California issued s grant of $400 million in lease revenue bond to purchase new beds and supplies for the facilities.  However, this change never happened because of budget cuts (California Justice System n.d.).

English: J. Harris Gardner / Chas O. Betts Juv...
English: J. Harris Gardner / Chas O. Betts Juvenile Justice Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trends of the youth and crimes they commit happened during the curfew hours.  Juveniles commit crimes, such as stealing, vandalizing, and others most often between the hours of 12 a.m. and 10 p.m. (Lawyer Shop n.d.).  Hence, it would be wise for the courts to strictly enforce curfew violations.

Finally, as a recent case demonstrates, juvenile judges need to be more flexible when rendering judgments that affect the future of young people.

A judge near Houston, Texas, ordered an honor student into overnight lockup for truancy.  This was in response to the tougher approach forced by politicians and the public.  In this case, the young lady in question was not only maintaining straight A’s despite not attending all her classes, but was also working two jobs to support herself and her brothers.  The parents had abandoned the children and Diane Tran was taking full responsibility.

Despite her sterling record, the judge ordered Ms Tran into juvenile detention because she missed more than 10 days of school in a semester; she missed 11.  Only in response to public pressure did this judge change his decision (C. J. Oakes, 2012).

Corrections & the Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile Correction is a facility that helps our juveniles receives rehabilitation for crimes they were convicted of.

“This helps provide youth with the opportunity to learn new coping and social skills to better handle situations and avoid becoming repeat offenders. Some facilities are better than others, and thus have varying success rates at rehabilitating troubled inmates. The best juvenile corrections facilities focus not only on punishing or detaining inmates, but also in educating and mentoring them” (Wise, 2012, p. n/a).

Some people think that Corrections and prison for Juveniles is the same.

The facilities for juveniles are the same as adult prisons in the way that the inmates are detained and must stay in the corrections facility until he or she serves the time for the crime that was committed.

There are a few ways that these facilities are different as well.

“For one, they are not generally meant for long-term punishment. Prison inmates are generally sentenced to several years behind bars, whereas juvenile inmates may also serve several weeks to several months in a facility. Juveniles also receive more extensive rehabilitation efforts than many prisons in the hopes that young children and adolescents will be easier to reach” (Wise, 2012, p. n/a).

Private Sector Involvement in Juvenile Justice

The private sector has become involved in corrections in many ways: by employing inmates, by providing programs and services, by managing areas of prison operations, and by applying techniques and technology.

English: The Juvenile Justice Center in Atasco...
English: The Juvenile Justice Center in Atascosa County in Jourdanton, TX (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Questionnaires were sent to correctional administrators, researchers, scholars, and private sector providers in the State, District of Columbia, and federal prison systems.

The results found that the degree of private sector involvement was widespread: 52 of the 54 agencies responding to the questionnaire reported at least one private sector contract.  37 adult and 29 juvenile agencies in 39 state jurisdictions and the District of Columbia use 32 types of private sector services or programs.

The most frequent uses of the private sector are in the provision of health services, educational and vocational training, aftercare and halfway house programs, and staff training.

Two problems found in the use of the more cost-effective private sector providers are monitoring their performance and the poor quality of some services. Suggested guidelines for using private sector services are included (NCJRS).

Justification for Problems with the Juvenile Justice System

Causal theories of criminal behavior, including that committed by juveniles range from biological to mental, free will and choice to socially constructed.   However, a new theory incorporates various aspects of all theories as these are upheld through empirical knowledge (C. J. Oakes, 2011).

The history of the juvenile justice system has been similar to the history of the broader Criminal Justice system in that it has proceeded according to so-called common sense in lieu of reliance upon fact.

As a result, the system has shifted according to the whims of the public and politicians with little to no success in curbing juvenile crime.  The proposed system attempts to reconcile all such issues for the good of the youth concerned while still protecting the public.


As with any solution, the most viable are those that meet several criteria.  Funding must be available and data must support the changes.  All personnel must be informed and educated regarding how these changes will affect their job.  Public support is needed, for as can be seen from the tough approach of the 80s and 90s, politicians often bend to the whims of an uninformed public.  If this approach can succeed in gaining public support and approval, funding issues may be more readily resolved.

English: Riverina Juvenile Justice Centre.
English: Riverina Juvenile Justice Centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To achieve the kind of juvenile justice system that will not only help youths reform but also continue to function well into the future, there must be a concerted effort by all involved and affected:  In other words, the entire community must be included.

Police on the frontlines need to become more personally involved with the young people on their beat; courts need to refer more juveniles to specialty courts, diversion programs, and other such; corrections officials can ensure that every possible program for rehabilitation is implemented; finally, communities can be educated regarding the facts.  In so doing the juvenile justice system will gain support for beneficial programs while private companies employment programs and funds.

There are several ways to achieve these goals, but perhaps no better way is for the politicians and law-makers to agree to and launch a full-scale public awareness campaign and take the lead in becoming more active with the youth of America.  Perhaps then the juvenile court system can reach maturity and reduce crime.

You May Also Like to Read…

Juvenile Justice?

Criminal Justice Trends: Juveniles in Jail

Is it Possible to Prevent Juvenile Delinquency?

Juvenile Justice System Case Study: A Needs-Based Recommendation

Parens Patriae: Can the State be a Better Parent?


  • California Juvenile System (2012). Retrieved from,
  • Canadian Review of Socioliogy Book Review: Gangs and Girls. (2011). Canadian Sociological Association, 48(1), 95-100.
  • Champion, D. J. (2010). The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentis Happ.
  • History of Americas Juvenile Justice System (2012). Retrieved from,
  • NCJRS retrieved June 3, 2012 from
  • Redding, R. E. (April 1999). Examining Legal Issues:  Juvenile Offenders in Criminal Court and Adult Prison. Corrections Today, 61(2), 92.
  • Oakes, C. Jeff (2012).  A Judges Tantrum and a Genius’ Plight. Retrieved from: (unpublished)
  • OJJDP. (2003). National Report Series Bulletin. Retrieved from
  • OJJDP. (June 2010). OJJDP Fact Sheet: Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court 2007. Retrieved from
  • Urbina, M. G., & White, W. S. (2009). Waiving Juveniles to Criminal Court: Officials Express their Throughs. Social Justice, 36(1), 122-139.
  • Wise Geek “What is Juvenile Corrections” retrieved June 3, 2012 from

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