Howell stated, “The juvenile and criminal justice systems in the United States have experienced a tumultuous period over the past half century” (Howell et. al., 2013, p. 1). If you go back to the history of the American teen justice system since its origin from the late 19th century to the present, you can see some transformations that can describe a complete circle. This paper will discuss whether a teen court reduces recidivism and how it transfers to the adult court.
At the beginning, many states created teen courts as a means of excluding children from participation in the legal system for adults, which was seen as a brutal and disproportionate one to the special needs of young people. Later it was replaced with a more humane, flexible and informal system based on the civil law rather than criminal one. This idea, to some extent, was successful when it was used in practice for decades. Most goals of the reform movement were achieved. However, the American public will never get wise to the fate of thousands of young people who had violated public order and then were returned to the society as productive members discreetly and successfully many years ago. On the other hand, there were failures, in particular, in controlling the growth of the most acute manifestations of juvenile violence during the second half of the last century that attracted the attention of the mass media, the public and politicians.
Because of such attention to this system many states decided to make this perspective die. The only way was to limit access to teen courts, adjusting the definition of those who fell under their procedure, or radically changing the approach that was the basis of this system.
Of course, today, a typical teen court system emphasizes sanctions (primarily it is interested in punishment rather than rehabilitation). It is to be deplored, since the far-reaching changes in the law sometimes were made in response to the specific cases that attracted great attention of the mass media.
However, our world is becoming more complex and has new serious problems. Drug trafficking, gunrunning, gang activities and violence – these are just some of the problems that have become common threats. These factors lower the quality of life in many places across the United States and not just in major cities. Each state had to find a new approach in order to solve the problem of juvenile crime and related issues, namely recidivism. During the 1990s the political pendulum swung several times. At the beginning of the decade some states developed crime prevention strategies based on efforts to promote cooperation with representatives of the local community. They tried to embody an approach to act all together. Proponents of this model wanted to get the support of community leaders – representatives of the municipality, police officials, courts officers, as well as eminent persons in religious, charitable and educational fields – to implement comprehensive programs to identify young people who are at risk of encountering with the criminal teen justice system. The idea was to intervene in the process early enough to prevent such a possibility. Such agreed efforts were often successful. But by the end of the decade the media uncovered a number of very sensational violent crimes committed by juveniles.
It is necessary to note that the teen justice system is at the crossroads in the 21st century. We can watch the continuing changes in the teen justice system. Thus, it is necessary to answer the question whether teen courts reduce recidivism and have sympathy for teenagers.
Bostic wrote, “According to the U.S. Department of Justice recidivism is the repetition of criminal behavior” (Bostic, 2014, para. 2). It is a very difficult problem which can be solved only with adequate resources provided by this system. Teen courts shall have appropriate power and authority, enough well-trained staff and adequate facilities to carry out its obligations and take responsibility.
Since 1984, the number of references to teen courts throughout the country has increased by 68 %. Since 1987, the number of adolescents who were detained and placed in state prisons has increased from about 90 000 to 400 000 in 2002. Correctional facilities are too overcrowded; there are not enough workers in the courts and structure of medical and correctional programs and institutions of temporary detention require improvement. If we do not invest in children as soon as possible, later costs will significantly grow due to rising crime and social decline. Each state spends about $ 6,000 a year in tuition per child. But the cost of maintaining a child in any residential institutions (including prison) is more than $ 30, 000 per year. It is necessary to engage children in appropriate activities in the early stages in order to avoid the point beyond which the state must detain them and keep them away from their families. Thus, the research shows that 61.8% of repeat offenders committed their first offense before the age of 18, only 27.3% of them were brought up to this age by both parents, and only 10.9% of the surveyed young people had secondary education. Another negative factor should be noted: 30% of the offenders released from prisons were illiterate, and 18% of them did not have any profession. Therefore, the successful liquidation of recidivism depends on the effectiveness of juvenile crime prevention and reformation of juvenile offenders.
According to Vose, “In 2009, approximately 1.9 million people under the age of 18 were arrested in the United States. The number of arrests of juveniles in 2009 was 17% lower than the number of arrests in 2000. In 2009, the number of juvenile arrests for violent index crimes was the lowest since 1980” (Vose, 2013, para. 2). On the one hand, recidivism of youth can be a tool for identifying criminogenic factors in the society, and, on the other hand, it can serve as the basis for crime prediction in general. Taking into consideration processes taking place in the youth environment, it is possible to imagine the future of the society. Young people, especially teens, represent the most vulnerable social group. In order to reduce recidivism it is necessary to carry out crime prevention procedures and destroy a criminal virus. Unfortunately, today the level of such criminal contamination among young people is very high. Recidivism has been and remains one of the most dangerous types of crime. The fact that young people commit more than one offense shows their desire to continue with criminal activities despite the measures taken to prevent such activities.
Butts stated, “Teen courts first came to national prominence in the 1990s, but the idea of using youth-operated courts for young offenders has a much longer heritage” (Butts, 2002, p. 2). However, the society had a great hold over them and made teen judicial systems change. Until the 1960s in the USA teenagers did not have as much procedural rights as adults. It was believed that these rights were not necessary because of the specific nature of the judicial process for teens. However, cruel attitude towards teens was observed.
Then, in 1960 teenagers got more rights in the criminal justice system. However, not all changes in the criminal justice system in the United States were aimed at ensuring better protection for young people. During the early years of teen-justice system protection, a lawbreaker was considered a juvenile or minor until the age of 18. Once young people became 18, or part of the adult majority, they were tried in the adult criminal liability system. Recently, however, in many American states young offenders are being prosecuted as adults, especially for such serious crimes as murder, violence, armed robbery, or kidnapping. For example, on August 23 the first-instance court of Pennsylvania immediately transferred Jordan Brown’s case to the teen court. Thanks to the decision of the court 13-year-old Jordan Brown wasn’t sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of early parole. Jordan Brown was 11 years old at the time of the offense. His case was automatically transferred to the adult court in accordance with the laws of the State of Pennsylvania for the murder. The boy was charged with two counts of homicide, because the victim, Kenzie Houk, was eight and a half months pregnant and her unborn child also died.
Pressing social problems, such as juvenile crime (criminal recidivism), cannot be solved alone by courts, which actually act in a certain vacuum. In order to reduce recidivism it is necessary to reach an active cooperation between the various elements of society and the authorities, between political and religious leaders, representatives of the educational system, civic organizations, law enforcement agencies and other organizations. Community leaders need to stop blaming each other, acting only in response to media reports about sensational crimes, and cooperate with each other more purposefully in order to solve the most important set of issues affecting young people and society as a whole.