Posted: September 18th, 2022

The articles and instructions are attached below. 1000 words minimum! Due May 7th 12 pm

JDFinals JeffreyAButts JudgeBurnett

 The articles and instructions are attached below. 1000 words minimum! Due May 7th 12 pm 

Instructions

After reading the articles linked below, written by Jeffrey Butts and Judge Burnett, do you feel that the juvenile
court is still necessary in the U.S.?

These articles were written 20 years ago and yet here we are still debating the “reform” potential of the
juvenile court. Whose argument is more convincing given what you now know about delinquency in the U.S.?
Be sure to use information from both articles to help support your answers.

Please include stuff from Chapters 21-25. What information you use will depend on the argument you are
making. I want to see how you can integrate the material into your answer.

This essay needs to be more developed and thought out than your previous posts. You do not need to do any
additional research, however, be sure to show evidence to support your arguments using the articles I have
provided. The length of the essay will vary but needs to be 1000 words at minimum.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Due May 6, 2022

Can We Do Without Juvenile Justice?
Jeffrey A. Butts

This report is reproduced with the permission of the
American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section.
Copyright © 2000 American Bar Association. All rights
reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not
be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or
downloaded or stored in any electronic database or retrieval
system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public
consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban
Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

To satisfy constituent demands for stronger crime policies, elected officials throughout the U.S. are gradually
dismantling the juvenile justice system and replacing it with a pseudocriminal system, one that emphasizes
mandatory sentences and formal, adversarial procedures. Large portions of the juvenile court’s original
caseload have already been re-assigned to the criminal court. Is the separate, juvenile justice system still
feasible? If not, what can replace it? Policymakers need to confront these questions, and they need innovative
answers. New policies should aim for more than simply abolishing the juvenile court’s delinquency jurisdiction
and sending all young offenders to conventional criminal courts.

A compelling argument can be made for abolishing the juvenile justice system, or more specifically,
abolishing delinquency, the idea that young offenders aren’t fully responsible for their behavior and should be
handled in a separate court system. Abolishing delinquency is not the same thing as abolishing the entire
juvenile court. Even if lawmakers ended the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over criminal law violations, the
juvenile court could continue to handle other types of cases (e.g., abused and neglected children, truants,
curfew violations). In fact, youthful offenders could continue to be handled by the same judges in the same
courtrooms that handle them now, but the courts would operate as youth divisions of a criminal court using
criminal procedures under the criminal code.

Neither would abolishing delinquency require that all young offenders be sent to adult correctional programs
or adult probation agencies. Many states already operate separate correctional facilities for young adults. The
decision to handle all young offenders in the criminal court would not prevent correctional specialization.
States would still be free to separate offenders by age when incarcerating or otherwise supervising convicted
offenders, and the federal government would still be free to require such separation as a condition of financial
support for state corrections agencies.

Debate over abolition of the juvenile justice system refers only to the court’s responsibility for delinquency
cases. Policymakers must decide what type of court should have legal jurisdiction over young people who
violate the law. The debate centers on whether to continue defining law violations by young people as
delinquent acts, or to classify them simply as crimes and refer them to criminal court.

Are juvenile courts still different?

Juvenile courts today bear only a passing similarity to the original concept of juvenile justice formulated a
century ago. State lawmakers built the first juvenile courts around an informal, quasi-civil process. Juvenile
court judges had broad discretion with which they could intervene quickly and decisively, even in cases
involving hard-to-prove charges. Juvenile offenders received minimal procedural protections in juvenile court,
but in return they were promised a court that would focus on their best interests. The mission of the juvenile
court was to help young law violators get back on the right track, not simply to punish their illegal behavior.

Long before the first juvenile court reached its 100th birthday in 1999, this original notion of juvenile justice
had been largely abandoned by state courts. According to Professor Barry Feld of the University of Minnesota,
America’s juvenile courts became “scaled-down, second-class criminal courts.” In his view and that of other
abolitionists, the court’s responsibility for young offenders should be ended. The juvenile court no longer lives
up to its part of the initial bargain. Prosecutors in juvenile court openly promote dispositions that amount to
proportional retribution. Judicial decisions are based explicitly on the severity of each juvenile’s crime rather
than the complexity of his or her problems.

Document date: May 01, 2000
Released online: May 01, 2000

http://webarchive.urban.org/index.cfm

http://www.urban.org/JeffreyAButts

http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/cjmag/home.html

The juvenile justice system has strayed too far from its original mission, according to Feld. Policymakers
should cancel the nation’s juvenile justice experiment. Today’s juvenile court retains much of the terminology
of juvenile law, but it functions as a pseudocriminal court. Worse, it fails to provide complete due process
protections for accused youth. Juvenile courts are still not required to provide bail, jury trials, or the right to a
speedy trial for youthful offenders.

Feld recommends that all law violations be handled in criminal court, although he hopes the system will
continue to recognize the lessened culpability of the very young by imposing sentences with a “youth
discount”-a 17-year-old defendant would get 75 percent of the sentence length due an 18-year-old, a
16-year-old would get 50 percent, etc. Even if Feld’s “youth discount” is ultimately rejected by policymakers,
the insights and observations on which he bases his proposal cannot be ignored. Lawmakers will soon have to
confront the basic question, “Can we do without the juvenile justice system?”

Juvenile justice politics

The juvenile justice system provokes strong opinions, and not all of them fit into neat categories like “liberal”
or “conservative.” It would be wrong to assume that all critics of the juvenile court are heartless,
law-and-order types who feel little compassion for the poor, disproportionately minority youth who comprise
the bulk of the juvenile court’s clients. The critics most in favor of abolishing the juvenile justice system
(Professor Feld, for example) are often motivated by a concern for youth. In their view, the juvenile court has
never lived up to its rehabilitative promise and it never will. More importantly, the juvenile court’s lower
standards of due process are no longer tolerable given its modern emphasis on just deserts and retribution.
Courts were meant to handle law violations, the abolitionists say, not social welfare problems.

It would also be wrong to characterize all defenders of the juvenile court as “soft on crime” or unconcerned
with victim rights. Some of those who defend the juvenile justice system do so because they believe despite
its flaws, the juvenile court offers a unique opportunity for broad, early intervention and effective crime
prevention. In fact, the juvenile court was originally conceived as an informal, quasi-civil court precisely in
order to free it of the procedural complexities that prevent the criminal court from acting too aggressively.
The juvenile court was deliberately designed to be flexible and quick to intervene.

Both extremes in the battle over juvenile justice can go too far in pursuing their agenda. The traditionalists
support a strict demarcation between juvenile and adult court and would like to save the original concept of
an informal, nonstigmatizing, juvenile justice system. This position is completely unrealistic, however, given
the legislative changes already implemented across the country. Contemporary juvenile courts operate much
like criminal courts with strict rules of evidence, adversarial procedures, and official goals that include
incapacitation and retribution. Moreover, nearly every state has enacted laws to send greater numbers of
youth to adult court. It is too late to save the traditional system because the traditional system is already gone.

Abolitionists, however, can be just as impractical. Many would simply eliminate the juvenile court’s
responsibility for young offenders. If juveniles are going to be punished according to the severity of their
crimes, the abolitionists argue, they should be tried in real courts with full due process rights. The abolitionists
contend it is no longer possible to maintain the fiction that juvenile courts are fundamentally different. Yet,
without significant reform of the criminal courts, the abolition of juvenile justice would require sending all
youth—even the youngest and most vulnerable—to the same general trial courts criticized by policymakers as
ineffective and overwhelmed. If the traditionalists appear naÏve, the abolitionists seem reckless.

Policymakers have tried to find middle ground in this conflict. Unfortunately, their compromise solution was to
slowly criminalize the juvenile court. Especially since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Gault decision in 1967 (387
U.S. 1), lawmakers across the country have encouraged juvenile courts to embrace the goals and operational
style of criminal courts. Juvenile courts today pursue many of the objectives once unique to criminal courts,
including incapacitation and retribution. Both juvenile courts and criminal courts rely on plea bargaining for
case outcomes. Both are forced by growing caseloads to adopt assembly-line tactics and they often have
difficulty providing individualized dispositions. The day-to-day atmosphere in modern juvenile courts
(especially in urban areas) is increasingly indistinguishable from that of criminal courts.

Although these reforms may have been enacted for good reason, they raise serious questions about the
continuing need for a separate, juvenile court system. As lawmakers continue to increase the similarity of
juvenile and criminal court sanctions, it becomes harder to rationalize the separation of the process that
imposes them. As judicial discretion is restricted, the juvenile court’s once sweeping authority becomes
diluted, making the court more bureaucratic and inflexible. Decades of reform increased the severity of the
juvenile court process, but they also curtailed the court’s ability to provide individualized and comprehensive
interventions for young offenders.

Sacrificing some to save others

Do we still need a separate, juvenile justice system? Throughout most of the juvenile court’s 100-year
history, there was little doubt that we did. Juvenile courts allowed society to intervene early in the lives of
troubled youth and they prevented a variety of horrors that occurred whenever young defendants were
thrown in with adult criminals. Defending the juvenile court was instinctive among youth advocates, social
workers, family therapists, clergy, educators, defense attorneys, judges, and even many prosecutors.

If there were no costs to be paid for maintaining a separate juvenile court, there would be no need to debate
its existence now. All conscientious and well-intentioned people would support the juvenile court without
question. In recent years, however, it has become clear that efforts to retain the separate, juvenile court
entail significant costs, for the justice system and for youth.

Juvenile justice as currently practiced imposes two significant costs on American youth. First, the juvenile
court itself no longer delivers on its promise (rehabilitation and low stigma in exchange for less due process).
Second, the continuing existence of the juvenile justice system (even if in name only) allows courts,
corrections, and other youth-serving agencies to ignore the inherent youthfulness of many offenders now
defined as adults. Thousands of 14-year-old and 15-year-old “adults” are removed to criminal courts every
year to be treated just like any other adult. They are no longer a concern to youth-serving professionals. Of
course, neither are the many more thousands of youths ages 18 and 19 who are viewed through the same
either-or prism, either juvenile or adult.

The growing use of criminal court transfer (or waiver) has been very damaging to the institutional integrity of
the juvenile court. Public safety proponents are unduly focused on increasing the use of transfer, despite
research casting doubt on its effectiveness. At the same time, youth advocates have painted themselves into
a corner. They are compelled to relinquish large portions of the juvenile court’s original caseload in exchange
for whatever remnants of the juvenile system policymakers might agree to preserve. In recent years, there
have been few voices of opposition willing to challenge state lawmakers each time they designate another
group of juveniles for transfer to adult court. Few complained when New Hampshire and Wisconsin lowered
the age of criminal court jurisdiction in 1996, effectively transferring all 17-year-olds in those states to the
adult court system.

Growing numbers of youth as young as age 13 are tried and sentenced in criminal courts that are often not
prepared to create specialized procedures and programs for developing adolescents. The juvenile justice
professionals who would be most qualified to design such programs are not interested in (or welcomed by)
the adult system. In effect, the juvenile justice system sacrifices one group of youth (legally defined as
adults) in an effort to save its programs for a second group (legal juveniles).

Undoing traditional juvenile justice

Today’s juvenile system is vulnerable to abolition because it attracts intense criticism from the public. Some
of this criticism stems from ignorance of juvenile law and its purpose, but not all of it comes from lack of
information. Many people simply no longer accept the concept of delinquency, or diminished legal
responsibility due to age. To them, a juvenile drug dealer is still a drug dealer. When a 13-year-old Oklahoma
boy fired a gun at his school striking several classmates in December 1999, the local prosecutor was asked
on national television why he was seeking to handle the case in adult court. “This type of crime,” he replied,
“requires a serious response” (NBC Today Show, December 14, 1999). He elaborated that according to
Oklahoma law, a juvenile offender cannot be held in secure confinement beyond age 19.

Equating seriousness with the length of confinement conflicts with the traditional concept of juvenile justice,
but support for traditional juvenile justice is wearing thin. Federal and state lawmakers have enacted
sweeping changes in the nation’s juvenile justice systems and the pace of change continued even when
juvenile violence began to plummet in the mid-1990s. Nearly all states have passed laws to send far more
juveniles to criminal court and some jurisdictions have introduced formal sentencing guidelines that limit the
discretion of juvenile court judges. Together, these efforts have begun to unravel the juvenile court’s reason
for being.

Transfers to criminal court

No issue in juvenile justice captures the attention of the public or of policymakers like criminal court transfer.
Many policymakers believe that serious juvenile offenders should be tried in criminal court in order to achieve
more certain and more severe punishment. Does this, in fact, happen? Does the public get more punishment
for its money when juveniles are tried as adults? Researchers who examine this question tend to find that the
use of transfer does increase the certainty and severity of legal sanctions, but only for the most serious
cases, perhaps 30 percent of transferred juveniles.

In about half of all transfers, the offenders receive sentences comparable to what they might have received in
juvenile court. Some (about one-fifth) actually receive more lenient treatment in criminal court. Some may
be convicted of lesser offenses or the charges against them may be dismissed due to the greater evidentiary
scrutiny in criminal court. The bottom line is that criminal court transfer does not ensure incarceration, and it
does not always increase sentence lengths even in cases that do result in incarceration. Yet, few policies are
as popular with the public or with elected officials.

During the 1980s and 1990s, lawmakers enacted new transfer laws on an almost annual basis. Moreover,
there was an increase in laws that moved entire classes of young offenders into criminal court without the
involvement of juvenile court judges. Judicial authority in transfer decisions was diminished while the role of
prosecutors and legislatures increased. Non-judicial mechanisms now account for the vast majority of juvenile
transfers.

For instance, many states enacted policies that made judicial waiver presumptive, shifting the burden of proof
from the prosecution to the defense. Presumptive waiver provisions typically require a defense attorney to
show proof that a youth is amenable to juvenile court handling. Otherwise, the juvenile is transferred to
criminal court. Between 1992 and 1997, according to a series of reports prepared for the Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, eleven states passed
new presumptive waiver provisions. Fourteen states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming) and the District of
Columbia had enacted presumptive waiver laws by the end of the 1990s.

Another increasingly popular strategy for moving juveniles into the criminal courts is mandatory waiver. While

Another increasingly popular strategy for moving juveniles into the criminal courts is mandatory waiver. While
presumptive waiver allows juveniles to rebut the presumption of nonamenability, mandatory waiver provides
no such escape. If a juvenile meets the criteria for mandatory waiver, a juvenile court judge is left with no
choice but to transfer jurisdiction. Mandatory transfers became very common during the 1990s after being
quite rare as recently as the 1970s. By 1997, according to OJJDP reports, 14 states (Connecticut, Delaware,
Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South
Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) had some form of mandatory waiver. South Carolina, for example,
requires juvenile court judges to transfer jurisdiction of any case involving a youth age 14 or older if the
youth has been adjudicated for two or more previous offenses and was accused of an offense punishable by a
sentence of at least 10 years. Indiana requires judges to waive any juvenile with a prior adjudication who is
charged with a felony.

Other mechanisms have contributed even more to the deterioration of the juvenile justice system. One
mechanism that became widespread during the 1980s and 1990s was statutory exclusion, known in some
states as automatic transfer. Statutory exclusion laws mandate that some young offenders are transferred
automatically to criminal court as soon as they are charged with certain offenses. Judicial consent is
unnecessary. If a youth is at least a certain age and charged with a certain offense, state law places the case
directly in criminal court. Georgia, for example, excludes all juveniles age 13 and older from juvenile court if
they are charged with one of several violent offenses such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, or
armed robbery with a firearm. Arizona automatically excludes juveniles charged with any felony if the youth
was adjudicated for two or more prior felony offenses. As of 1997, 28 states had legislation to exclude at
least some juveniles from the juvenile court.

Direct file, also known as concurrent jurisdiction or prosecutor discretion, is another increasingly prominent
form of criminal court transfer. Direct file laws give prosecutors the discretion to prosecute juveniles either in
juvenile or adult court. The popularity of direct file provisions grew significantly during the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1982, just eight states had direct file statutes; by 1997, there were 15 states with these laws. Colorado,
for example, authorizes prosecutors to proceed directly to criminal court in any case involving a youth age 14
or older charged with a wide array of felony offenses.

Louisiana gives prosecutors discretion to file criminal charges against any youth age 15 and older and
charged with a second drug felony, a second aggravated burglary, or virtually any of the Violent Crime Index
offenses. The number of juveniles transferred by prosecutors has grown sharply. Florida prosecutors alone
send more than 7,000 cases to criminal courts each year.

Blended sentencing

Transferring juveniles to the adult court system is the most widely recognized method of increasing the
severity of sanctions for young offenders, but it is not the only method. During the 1990s, some states gave
judges the power to blend criminal court sentences with juvenile court dispositions. Instead of choosing
between sentencing a youth in juvenile or adult court, judges can draw upon both systems. A youth might
begin a period of confinement in a juvenile facility before being sent to an adult prison at age 18.

Blended sentencing policies were devised primarily to provide longer terms of incarceration for juveniles, but
they also helped to blur the distinction between juvenile justice and adult justice. Increasing the variety of
sentencing options may reduce the resistance of courts to handle very young offenders in the adult system
since juveniles may not be subject to immediate confinement with adults. Blended sentencing policies may
also allow judges to draw upon the traditionally richer treatment and supervision resources available in the
juvenile justice system without having to sacrifice the lengthy periods of incarceration once available only in
the criminal court system.

Blended sentencing was virtually unheard of in the juvenile justice system before the 1980s. By 1997, there
were 20 states employing one or more blended sentencing schemes (including Arkansas, California, Colorado,
Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New
Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia).

Mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines

Sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum policies for juveniles also began to proliferate during the
1980s and 1990s. As of 1997, 17 states and the District of Columbia had enacted some type of mandatory
minimum sentencing provisions for at least some juvenile offenders. Some jurisdictions applied sentencing
guidelines to juveniles by first requiring that they be tried in criminal court, but others (e.g., Arizona, Utah
and Wyoming) enacted formal sentencing guidelines that applied to juvenile delinquency cases handled by
juvenile court judges. These laws required juvenile court dispositions to be consistent with a pre-defined
sentencing menu based upon the youth’s most recent offense and prior record.

The use of structured sentencing fundamentally contradicts the basic premise of juvenile justice by making
sentence length proportional to the severity of an offense rather than basing court outcomes on the
characteristics and life problems of offenders. As the popularity of these policies increases, it becomes very
difficult to justify the continuation of a juvenile justice system that fails to provide complete due process
protections for the youth it handles.

Reduced confidentiality

Almost all juvenile court proceedings and records were confidential as recently as the 1960s. Confidentiality
was an integral part of the traditional juvenile justice model, based upon the theory that publicly designating
a juvenile as a law violator would stigmatize a young person. This stigma would then encourage the juvenile

a juvenile as a law violator would stigmatize a young person. This stigma would then encourage the juvenile
to adopt a deviant self-image and reduce the potential for rehabilitation.

As juvenile justice policy became more contentious during the 1980s and 1990s, support for confidentiality
protections began to erode. Practical issues such as jurisdictional information sharing and greater media
interest in juvenile court proceedings began to win out over confidentiality. Most states opened their juvenile
court proceedings or records to the public and to the media. By 1997, 30 states had enacted provisions to
allow open hearings in at least some juvenile cases. Forty-two states had enacted legislation authorizing the
release and publication of the names and addresses of alleged juvenile offenders in some cases. States also
began to allow more juveniles to be fingerprinted and photographed. Nearly all states now allow juvenile
fingerprints to be included in criminal history records, and nearly all states authorize juveniles to be
photographed for later identification.

In addition, many states enacted laws that required juvenile records to remain open longer or prevented the
sealing or destruction of juvenile records altogether, typically those involving violent or serious offenses.
Florida, for example, requires records about juveniles considered habitual offenders to be retained until the
offender reaches age 26. North Carolina prevents authorities from expunging records altogether for certain,
serious offenses. By 1997, half the states had enacted laws restricting the sealing and/or expunging of
juvenile records.

Using juvenile records in criminal court

Finally, some states have even passed laws enabling juvenile court records to affect criminal court sentences.
Enhancing criminal court sentences with juvenile court adjudications abrogates the agreement that allowed
the juvenile court to exist in the first place. Adjudication in juvenile court begins to involve potentially serious
jeopardy for youth.

As of 1997, according to research by Joseph Sanborn, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had enacted
statutes or court rules allowing this practice or they had case law that sanctioned it. For example, Illinois and
Indiana allow juvenile offense histories to serve as sufficient grounds for increasing sentence length or
imposing consecutive sentences. Three states (California, Louisiana, and Texas) allow juvenile adjudications
to serve as the first and second “strikes” against an adult offender. Thus, an offender with two prior juvenile
court adjudications could face life in prison for a first appearance in criminal court.

Chronic frustration

These changes were implemented in response to public demands for tougher juvenile crime policies. Yet, the
public still views the juvenile court as a weak and inadequate response to juvenile crime. As always, the most
popular response to this perception is to send more juveniles to criminal court. Not because criminal courts
have been found to be more effective than juvenile courts, but because the adult system offers a more
potent symbol of crime control than does the juvenile court. Professor Franklin Zimring of U.C. Berkeley
points out that the impetus to enact new crime legislation is nearly always its symbolic value rather than its
operational impact. This is why one wave of reform is inevitably followed by another.

Perhaps the public’s frustration with the juvenile justice system is perpetuated by the fact that juvenile courts
are a distinct and highly visible component of the criminal justice system. Individual, criminal acts by
25-year-olds, or divorced people, or computer programmers do not often provoke calls for sweeping reforms
of the criminal law. There is no system set aside for these groups. Every shocking crime by a young person,
on the other hand, calls attention to possible problems in the court system especially designed to deal with
juveniles. The juvenile justice system acts like a magnet, attracting the public’s frustrations about the crime
problem, even if juveniles are only a small part of the problem.

Every time juvenile crime appears in the headlines, Americans wonder why the police refer to the youth
involved as a delinquent and not simply as a criminal. Why does the juvenile court have its own, unique
process and vocabulary? Why do officials avoid using words like “verdict” and “conviction” and instead
describe the juvenile court as “establishing facts” and “reaching adjudication”? If a long prison term is
warranted, why can’t it be imposed by a juvenile court? Why do prosecutors first have to transfer the case to
adult court? Juvenile court begins to sound like a synonym for weak and lenient.

Even professionals who work in the juvenile justice system can be confused by juvenile law and procedure.
This author recently participated in a workshop for administrators and judges representing every juvenile
court jurisdiction in one western state. During the workshop, an experienced juvenile court clerk observed
that juvenile court terminology seems mainly intended to obscure the court process and to keep the public
from understanding it completely. Of those attending the workshop, only half seemed to fully support the
continued use of the juvenile court’s unique terminology.

The words used in the juvenile court, of course, are intended to symbolize the unique mission and legal
philosophy of the juvenile justice system. Youths adjudicated in juvenile court are technically not guilty of
criminal offenses. Instead, they are “found to be delinquent” which authorizes the juvenile court to intervene
in their behalf, even if the court’s intervention includes locked confinement. This legal distinction supposedly
spares youth the stigma of a “guilty” verdict and preserves the chances that one day they can again be
productive citizens without the taint of a criminal conviction.

A century of juvenile court jurisprudence has established that the juvenile justice system is supposed to be
different from the criminal justice system. Increasingly, however, it is not different in the ways that once
counted the most. The juvenile court’s existence inflames political rhetoric but it fails to deliver quality justice
for all youth.

for all youth.

Beyond dichotomy: a new “youth justice” system

Youth advocates may need to re-consider their position on the juvenile court. Instead of concerning
themselves only with youth who still happen to be legal juveniles, they may want to shift their focus and work
to ensure fair and timely justice for all youth-even those processed in the criminal court system. This work
could be done from either side of the juvenile-criminal border, by making youth-oriented improvements from
within the criminal justice system, or by helping juvenile justice professionals to get involved in programs for
young adult offenders. It may be even more effective, however, if the border no longer existed.

Criminal courts are not as evil and juvenile courts are not as virtuous as some might suggest. The justice
system as a whole might benefit if lawmakers, judges, and practitioners were able to stop fighting over the
politically hobbled delinquency jurisdiction of the juvenile court. If delinquency laws were abolished and all
offenders young and old were handled in an integrated criminal court system, youth advocates could begin to
focus on ensuring the quality of the process used for all youth.

The question is how to get from here to there. How can we build a new justice system that protects the public
safety and the rights of youth while ensuring that youthful offenders get every chance they deserve to mend
their ways and rejoin society? One way to begin may be to take advantage of the growing diversity of
specialized courts.

The public generally assumes there are only two types of courts—criminal or juvenile. Consequently, any
effort to increase the symbolic strength of juvenile crime policy necessarily favors making greater use of
criminal courts. American courts, however, are far more diverse than this. Innovative, specialized courts such
as drug courts, gun courts, and community-based courts are bringing new ideas and a wider range of choices
to the criminal justice system. Some of these new courts actually resemble the traditional juvenile court in
their philosophy of human behavior, their approach to processing cases, and their efforts to monitor offender
compliance with court orders by close, judicial supervision.

For the past two decades, state and federal officials have been slowly dismantling the juvenile justice system
without much thought as to what will replace it. The emergence of innovative, specialized courts within the
adult system presents an unprecedented opportunity to create a new “youth justice system.” Ideally, this
new system would retain the best features of the juvenile court while gradually incorporating new ideas and
procedures developed by the specialized courts now spreading across the country.

Eventually, every state could begin to implement a wide assortment of court models and establish
individualized intake procedures for routing young offenders to the most appropriate forum. Once such a
system was fully in place, the old dichotomy of juvenile court versus adult court may no longer seem as
important. Lawmakers may be able to consider abolishing the juvenile court’s delinquency jurisdiction and
improve the coherence of criminal justice policy for all youth. Most importantly, the juvenile court would no
longer be such an easy target when politicians go looking for symbolic victories over crime.

After all, the central issue is not whether young offenders are called delinquents. The real issue is what
happens when young people are arrested and when they appear in court. What process is used to determine
their culpability? Who chooses the most appropriate response for each case? How quickly does the process
occur, and does it ensure the safety of the public while guarding the rights of offenders? Is the process
designed to maximize each person’s chances of rejoining the law-abiding community?

Satisfactory answers to these questions will be possible only when every community has an effective,
understandable intake process, a fair and efficient system of fact finding and adjudication, and a diverse
menu of services and sanctions that are suitable for a wide range of offenders. Maintaining the juvenile court
and its separate delinquency jurisdiction may have once guaranteed such a system for young people. The
benefits are far less certain today.

Conclusion

Recent decreases in juvenile violence offer the nation’s policymakers an opportunity to pause and reflect upon
how they have changed the juvenile court and what its future should be. This is a good time to ask whether a
separate system of juvenile justice is in fact sustainable, either legally or politically. If not, how can state and
local officials design a new system that will meet the needs of youth and their communities during the next
century? There may be just enough time to fashion a new youth justice system before the next violent crime
wave comes along.

Reference Material

The following references provide in-depth background information on the topics addressed in this article.

Feld, Barry C., “Abolish The Juvenile Court: Youthfulness, Criminal Responsibility, and Sentencing Policy,”
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 88: 68-136 (1998).

Griffin, Patrick, Patricia Torbet and Linda Szymanski, “Trying Juveniles as Adults in Criminal Court: An Analysis
of State Transfer Provisions,” OJJDP Report (1998). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Sanborn, Joseph B. Jr., “Second-class Justice, First-class Punishment: The Use of Juvenile Records in
Sentencing Adults,” Judicature 81(5): 206-213 (1998).

Torbet, Patricia et al., State Responses to Serious and Violent Juvenile Crime, Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1996).

Torbet, Patricia and Linda Szymanski, “State Legislative Responses to Violent Juvenile Crime: 1996-97
Update,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin (1998). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Zimring, Franklin E., “The New Politics of Criminal Justice: Of Three Strikes, Truth in Sentencing and Megan’s
Law,” Perspectives on Crime and Justice: Lecture Series (December 8, 1999). Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Jeffrey Butts, Ph.D., is senior research associate in the Program on Law & Behavior, Urban Institute,
Washington, D.C.

Other Publications by the Authors
Jeffrey A. Butts

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Criminal Justice Section

Criminal Justice Magazine

Criminal Justice Magazine
Spring 2000
Vol. 15, Issue 1

WHAT OF THE FUTURE? ENVISIONING AN EFFECTIVE JUVENILE COURT

By Hon. Arthur L. Burnett, Sr.

It is not uncommon to hear that “our children are our future” and “it takes a whole village to raise
a child,” but society has a long way to go to substantively implement these concepts. As we enter
the 21st century there must be a commitment to a stronger, reinvigorated, and more innovative
juvenile court system. In the past decade, the emphasis has turned from rehabilitation and
treatment to punishment, as state legislators pass statutes that remove juveniles from the
jurisdiction of the juvenile court in order to treat many more of them as adults. In fact, the public
perception of extremely violent youth is the based on the acts of a small number of juveniles
with ready access to guns.(See Thomas F. Geraghty, Symposium on the Future of the Juvenile
Court: Justice for Children: How Do we Get There? 88 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 190 n.2
(citing Donna Lyons, Juvenile Crime and Justice: State Enactments, 1995, 20 St. Legis. Rep. 17
(1995) (50-state survey), 191, 199 (discussing the Illinois statutory change) (1997).) The age of
transfer has been lowered in many jurisdictions, and a broader range of felonies can lead to
adjudication as an adult. Fully 90 percent of all states have toughened their juvenile justice laws
in recent years, and some states have no minimum age of transfer. (Thomas Grisso, Juvenile
Competency to Stand Trial, 12 CRIM. JUST. 4, 5-6 (1997). But the conduct of the violent few
should not govern the policies as to the role of juvenile courts in the 21st century. What
legislators and executive officials should do is provide the juvenile courts with greater resources
to deal effectively with children, revitalizing the courts in the context of contemporary society
and giving them the capacity to achieve the purpose for which they were originally created. With
such resources, juvenile judges and administrators must be more creative and effective in
utilizing them to achieve the maximum results desired. Policymakers, such as legislators and
executive branch officials, can no longer afford to treat the juvenile court as the stepchild in the
overall court system. Some would argue that given the importance of reaching troubled youth in
the most formative time in their lives, juvenile courts should be placed at the head of the line for
sufficient financial funding and proper staffing with committed judges, social workers,
psychologists, psychiatrists, and other personnel necessary to meet the demand. For many courts,
the problem is finding appropriate programs in which to place troubled children. This is
especially true for indigent youth. (For more on this topic, see the article Crisis in Indigent
Juvenile Defense in this issue. Also see Thomas F. Geraghty, supra, 203-04.)

Choosing the court’s mission

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As we begin the 21st century, what should be the mission of the juvenile court? Should its role
be limited only to cases involving the first-time, non-violent offender, who offers the optimum
opportunity for success, where it can devote more of its resources and energies to prevent
recidivism? Is this approach too limited? Or should the juvenile court have an expansive
jurisdiction that includes repeaters and those charged with violent offenses, giving discretion to
judges to determine, based on an adequate factual record after a due process hearing, when a
juvenile warrants waiver to adult criminal court because he or she can no longer be handled in
the juvenile court system? Instead, for the child in the margins, where the judgment call may be
difficult, why not try the “blended sentencing” approach enacted into laws in New Mexico and
Minnesota. Blended sentencing, which permits juvenile court judges to impose juvenile and adult
sentences at the same time, is designed to reduce reliance upon automatic and discretionary
transfer, allowing the “transfer” decision to be made after a child’s experience with juvenile court
interventions can be evaluated. The effect of a latent adult sentence provides a powerful
incentive for the juvenile to respond to services provided by the juvenile court and protects
society if the child does not respond in a positive manner. Blended sentencing schemes impose
substantial punishment, provide incentives for rehabilitation, and where rehabilitation works,
eliminate the economic and social costs of long-term incarceration in adult prisons. (Geraghty,
supra, at 191.) In this connection, note that in 1996 only 9 percent of the juveniles charged were
for the violent offenses of criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Half
of those charged were for property offenses. Some 10 percent of the juvenile arrests were for
drug law violations, and 19 percent were for public order offenses.(OJJDP, Juvenile Offenders
and Victims: 1999 National Report, at 144.) Juvenile justice policy affecting 100 percent of the
American youth should not be predicated upon the alleged violence of 9 percent or less of those
arrested. Policy must be guided by consideration for the greatest good for the greatest number of
youth while remembering that each child is important as an individual. It is essential that the first
time a youngster is brought before the juvenile court, the maximum resources necessary be made
available to change his or her attitudes and values so that child does not become a repeater in the
juvenile justice system and, ultimately, an adult criminal offender. From this perspective, it is
more important that legislators and the executive branch spend more resources on the juvenile
court to ensure its maximum efficiency and provision of services than on the adult criminal court.
If the juvenile justice system is to be saved from becoming the “farm system” for adult criminal
offenders, we must focus more of our resources and attention on early and effective intervention
during a child’s first contact with the juvenile courts. If successful, this could significantly reduce
the number of adult criminal cases in the future. We must start with the quality of the judges and
judicial officers serving in our juvenile courts. They must have not only a knowledge of the law
applicable to juvenile delinquency cases, but they must recognize one of the fundamental truths
upon which the juvenile court is based: Children, by virtue of their age and inexperience, require
special protections under the law. They must fully understand and appreciate the stages of child
development, the educational needs of children at various stages in their development, and child
behavioral issues. (See Elizabeth S. Scott and Thomas Grisso, Symposium on The Future of the
Juvenile Court: the Evolution of Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice
Reform, 88 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 137 (1997).) To that purpose, the juvenile court
judge and judicial officer must be sufficiently immersed and gain a depth of understanding that
equals the substantive knowledge expected of social workers and psychologists who deal with
children and their behaviors. They should receive specialized training, which is comprehensive
and multidisciplinary. They must also become culturally sensitive so as to appropriately evaluate
each child who comes before the juvenile court on the basis of his or her own character and

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individual value system, without being influenced by stereotypes and assumptions based on race,
national origin, and poverty circumstances. This also applies to social workers, psychiatrists,
psychologists, probation officers, and others in order to make accurate risk assessments in
evaluating each individual child. This is necessary so that the recommendations they make to the
judge or judicial officer will reflect the true inner core of that child. Such recommendations then
provide the basis for an intelligent decision as to what services will assist that child to become a
positive functional youngster who will not offend again. Judges and their staff, with community
support, should design and implement effective alternatives to detention that will achieve this
objective while keeping the youngster in the community. When a youngster fails to conform to
conditions of probation or release in the community, there should be meaningful, graduated
sanctions appropriate to the conduct. Detention should be the ultimate sanction when necessary
to protect the safety of others and the community. Judges and judicial officers should have a
sufficient commitment and dedication to serve in the juvenile court for at least two years to
acquire the needed knowledge and expertise. In this manner, the juvenile court can become a
highly functioning special court for children-the Children’s Court-which can accomplish its
mission, provided legislators give it the highest priority along with adequate financial and human
resources.

Intake screening process

A progressive juvenile court must have an effective intake screening process to evaluate the risk
and behavior factors of each child brought before the court. For instance, when the youngster is a
first offender for a property offense, a minor assault, or a minor drug offense, an adult from a
faith-based organization might come forward to serve as a mentor to that child and as a helper to
the parent. The trial on the juvenile petition or complaint could be stayed or deferred for a period
of four to six months to determine if the child will improve under the watchful eye of a
concerned mentor operating much like a favorite uncle or aunt. If at the end of the deferred
prosecution period the child is well adjusted in school and has made positive adjustments in the
community, the prosecutor could then drop the charge without jeopardizing the safety of the
community or worrying about whether the child felt he or she had merely received a “slap on the
wrist” with no appreciable consequences. Indeed, during this period, 25 or more hours of
community service could be required of the youngster-a giving back to the community. In this
manner, these mentors could become like Thomas Calhoun Walker of Virginia who served as the
“children’s lawyer” for African American youth in Virginia in the first half of the last century.
According to juvenile justice scholar Professor Robert E. Shepherd of the University of
Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law, Walker persuaded local judges to bond boys who had
been jailed into his custody. He would then place them among families of his acquaintance or
take them home to his wife. Many of these youths were adopted by these families and went on to
college or into a trade without further difficulties. (Juvenile Justice 14(2) CRIM. JUST.,
(Summer 1999) at 45.) The utilization of church-based or faith-based mentors who are truly
committed and dedicated could greatly increase the number of juveniles who correct their ways
and become responsible and productive adult citizens in our communities. The only requirement,
in order to maintain the church/state separation, is that the court make clear that religious
instruction or church attendance must not be required of the child in order to participate in such a
program.

Teen courts

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Another alternative available to the juvenile court is the use of “teen courts,” also known as
“youth courts.” In the past decade they have become a popular intervention for young and first-
time offenders. The number of teen courts nationwide grew from an estimated 50 programs in
1991 to 400-500 programs in 1998. (OJJDP Fact Sheet, Oct. 1999, No. 118.) According to the
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, survey findings indicated that teen courts
nationwide handled approximately 65,000 cases in 1998. Most teen courts do not determine the
guilt or innocence of juveniles, rather they serve as diversion alternatives. Although individuals
must admit to the charges against them in order to qualify for teen court, no formal adjudication
is made nor judgment entered. The types of offenses include theft, misdemeanor assault,
disorderly conduct, and possession of alcohol. The most popular teen court model involves the
use of an adult judge with juvenile “lawyers.” These courts utilize youths in various roles,
including prosecutors, defense counsel, and as members of juries that determine factual guilt or
as advisory juries to fashion appropriate dispositions. Community service is the most common
disposition used in teen court cases. Other dispositions include victim apology letters, apology
essays, teen court jury duty, drug/alcohol classes, and monetary restitution. The proponents of
such teen or youth courts hope to achieve reduced recidivism, increased pro-social attitudes, and
improved perceptions of justice. (See the article “The Time Dollar Youth Court” on page 40.)

In November 1999, the District of Columbia Coalition Against Drugs and Violence voted to
support the expansion of the youth court program and to use its influence and outreach efforts to
involve more community collaborators in providing the services these youngsters need to ensure
that they make a positive social adjustment and do not commit further juvenile offenses. In this
way we can expand the availability of services to each individual youngster in a manner
expressly designed to treat the problems and behaviors of that individual.

Many youngsters referred to the juvenile justice system are alcohol or drug dependent, or on
their way to becoming such. More services need to be provided to the juvenile justice system for
addressing these problems in an effective and meaningful fashion. In the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia in 1999 a juvenile drug court was established as a 12-month substance
abuse treatment program aimed at promoting abstinence and healthy living choices for juveniles
and their families. This program is comprehensive in scope and is directed at the nonviolent
substance abusing juvenile population. Treatment is designed using a strengths-based model that
focuses on the individual’s and the family’s most positive characteristics. The program is
intensive and includes structured supervision, regular court appearances, mandatory drug/alcohol
testing, ongoing assessment, group and individual counseling, drug education, family counseling,
education and support, recreational therapy, and a myriad of wraparound services designed to
support healthy and responsible living. In developing these strengths, the juvenile and his or her
family will be empowered to develop a drug-free lifestyle and accomplish goals for responsible
living. Upon successful completion of the program, the judge has the authority and power to
dismiss the charges that brought the juvenile before the court.

When cases go to trial

When pretrial diversion programs or other approaches do not result in the dismissal of the
juvenile delinquency charges, the case must be tried. At this stage it is essential that the juvenile
be represented by defense counsel as knowledgeable and competent as any lawyer who would
represent a criminal accused in adult criminal court. Young lawyers right out of law school
should not merely view juvenile court as a training ground to prepare them to represent adults in

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criminal court. Rather, they should view the role of defense counsel in juvenile court as being
even more demanding than adult court because there are serious questions as to a child’s ability
and capacity to understand the proceedings and to assist counsel. (See Thomas Grisso, Juvenile
Competency to Stand Trial, Questions in an Era of Punitive Reform, 12(3) CRIM. JUST., (Fall
1997) at 4-11.)

Counsel must also fully appreciate the implications of In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967) and its
progeny and be fully competent to protect the constitutional due process rights of the juvenile in
the trial process. (See Robert E. Shepard, Jr., The Juvenile Court at 100: Birthday Cake or
Funeral Pyre, 14(2) CRIM. JUST., (Winter 1999) at 50; In re Winship, 397 U.S. 385 (1970).)
Further, counsel in juvenile delinquency cases may make a far greater contribution by assisting
in designing a disposition plan that may change a child’s life, rerouting a juvenile’s path from
repeat offender to a productive and useful citizen, making significant contributions to the
community in which he or she will live as an adult. Effective, committed, and knowledgeable
lawyers for juveniles should come forward to advocate for each child at every stage of the
proceeding.

It is also important that a substantial number of minority lawyers come forward to handle
juvenile delinquency cases. (In August, the author urged by letter that the president of the
National Bar Association, Harold D. Pope, use the prestige of that office to encourage young
African American lawyers to participate in training programs to be offered by the American Bar
Association’s Juvenile Defender Center. The lawyers would spend two to three years
representing clients in the juvenile court system.) With the disproportionate minority
confinement statistics that now exist in this country, minority lawyers must accept the challenge
of educating judges, psychologists, social workers, and others in the juvenile justice system on
how better to assess and evaluate all minority youths-their inner values, mores, cultural and
family traditions-so as to design effective rehabilitation programs in connection with proposed
dispositions, which lead to probation and a change of attitudes and values that result in a child
becoming a responsible, productive, and law abiding individual.

Effective representation requires counsel to meet the juvenile client immediately in order to
understand what brings the child to court. Counsel should then gather critical information from
the family, schools, and social service agencies and conduct at least a preliminary inquiry into
the nature of the charges. This will enable the lawyer to present the client in the best light. If
pretrial release is not obtained on the initial presentment, counsel should endeavor to obtain a
review proceeding as to release, gather additional information, and make the best case possible
for the release of the client to the community. Obtaining a strong potential mentor, setting up a
program of regular school attendance that will be monitored, and an after-school program to
ensure that the child is engaged in positive activities should be ingredients of any release plan. If
there is indication of drug use, drug testing and counseling should enable counsel to obtain the
release of the juvenile, unless the offense is an exceptionally violent one or the youth has a
serious history of prior offenses. In this way, counsel can assist in reducing the disproportionate
confinement of minority youth held in pretrial detention. Such an approach by defense counsel at
the very beginning of the case is absolutely necessary to ensure that juveniles are not held in
secure detention when they pose no significant danger to themselves or others. Once the juvenile
has been released from pretrial detention, or if the child continues to be held, counsel should be
just as diligent in the investigation of the case and preparation for trial as if it were an adult

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criminal trial.

Effective probation

If the charges against the juvenile are sustained, the juvenile will need continued representation
to ensure that the disposition-sentencing-order is fair and appropriate. Putting a youngster on
probation must be more than imposing conditions that tell the youngster “to go and sin no more.”
There must be more than the hortatory “thou shall not” with reference to engaging in future
delinquent or criminal conduct. Effective probation programs for a youth must provide for giving
the offender the required literacy skills and education necessary to function in society in the 21st
century. Probation conditions should be established to achieve giving the probationer the basic
life skills and the job training to be employable and self-sustaining once the probation period is
successfully completed. Juvenile court judges should seek to tap all available community
resources as options for meaningful probation conditions that will change values and really
rehabilitate. Indeed, the juvenile court may seek to establish a collaborative working relationship
with community groups that work with youths to give them positive direction and to provide the
youth probationer with the wherewithal to change his or her life. Such an example is Project
Soar, which ran from fall 1995 to summer 1997. Offenders in that program ran a pizza delivery
restaurant, participated in after-school tutoring, and learned computer-base skills. This program
was designed to create a special place for young offenders who were committed to leaving
criminal behavior behind and working hard to improve their academic skills, gain employment
experience, and enhance their own ability to make good decisions. In the spring of 1997 this
program was expanded into a model comprehensive youth development program and renamed
“See Forever,” an innovative program integrating academics, the world of work, and life skills.
“See Forever” opened its doors in September 1997 as a tuition-free, alternative school and real-
world employment training program. In May 1998 the founders created an affiliate, a second
student-based business, the “See Forever Student Tech Shop,” at which students use their
technical skills to produce technology/graphics design products and to teach parents and siblings
computer skills. In the summer of 1998 the founders of these entities separately incorporated the
school to establish it as a public charter school and named it “The Maya Angelou Public Charter
School” as a sole member nonprofit subsidiary of “See Forever.” The school held its first
graduation in July 1999 and all three of its graduates entered college this past fall. During the
past summer two of its graduates taught a six-week computer course to seven students
participating in the Superior Court Juvenile Drug Court/Probation program in Washington, D.C.
In September 1999, the school started with 52 students and opened its fourth “See Forever”
residence. Thirteen students now live in small “homes” around the school, each staffed by a “See
Forever” adult; it is also planning to open another girls’ residence in the near future. Such a
resource for referral of offenders placed on probation by juvenile court judges of the Superior
Court of the District of Columbia could serve as a model for changing lives and achieving the
optimum success with juvenile probationers.

Another example of an exciting resource for offenders in the Washington, D.C., court system is
the ARCH program-Action to Rehabilitate Community Housing. Its YouthBuild Program was
recently funded by a $650,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development. This program will provide vocational training and education to 40 District of
Columbia youths, aged 16 to 24, who are under the control of the superior court. This pilot
program will combine academic instruction, vocational training in construction, leadership

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development, community service, life and employability skills training, social services and job
placement, and follow-up. This will be the first YouthBuild program in the country that will
serve only adjudicated youth. It is contemplated that the average stay in the program will be nine
to 14 months and that every effort will be made to place a youth who completes the program
with an employer. This is a program with a real pragmatic promise of changing lives.

Another program with much realistic promise is the Urban Services Program, also operated by
the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. This is a year-long intensive probation
supervision program for nonviolent youthful offenders between the ages of 14 and 26. It is a
special emphasis program, the purpose of which is to interrupt and reduce criminal activities by
providing a highly structured, community-based, intensely supervised program conducted in
three phases. The first stage is a residential boot camp to build structure and discipline in a
probationer’s life. During the first 30 days, emphasis is placed on physical conditioning, ropes
course, drills, bonding, survival skills, nutrition, and therapeutic groups, focused on anger
management, conflict resolution, value clarification, and goal setting. The second stage lasts six
months during which time the emphasis is on life preparation. Probation officers are charged
with developing an individualized treatment plan that addresses the needs of the offender based
on an educational assessment, drug abuse assessment, and goals set by the offender during the
first stage. Included in this intensive community supervision are electronic monitoring, home
visits, twice weekly urine tests, referrals for employment readiness, job placements, GED
preparation or school advocacy, therapeutic recreation, and other specific referrals deemed
appropriate to assist the offender with becoming a productive law-abiding citizen. During the
final phase, which runs five months, based on positive progress, office visits are reduced and
probation officers continue to monitor the individual’s compliance with the individualized
treatment plans and probation conditions.

When, after adjudication, it becomes necessary for a juvenile court judge to decide on a
disposition of probation or detention for a child, the judge should by statute be given the
authority to fashion a probation program that is holistic in nature and that includes the entire
family. Many youths before a juvenile court come from dysfunctional families where a multitude
of legal, social, and economic issues are intertwined. Much delinquent behavior can be traced to
the family dynamics. Judges should be authorized to order family members into counseling and
treatment along with the juvenile. When the parent or guardian refuses to comply, the court by
statute should have the authority to impose sanctions, including contempt. (See, e.g., D.C. Code
§ 16-2320(c)(3) (1997).)

There must be effective monitoring of compliance with even regular conditions of probation by
the youth by the assigned probation officer or social worker. One such creative example is the
school-based probation officer program in Pennsylvania. Truancy is frequently at the foundation
of a child becoming a juvenile delinquent; by putting probation officers physically in the school
they can monitor their probationers’ school attendance and they can also meet with them, provide
them counseling, and even tutor them in meeting their educational requirements. Pennsylvania
has placed more than 150 probation officers in schools full-time. The probation officer’s primary
role is to provide the probationers who attend the school with daily intensive supervision.
Further, this school-based model allows the probation officers to maintain close contact with the
juveniles under their supervision, verify their attendance, and monitor their academic progress
and general behavior.

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When detention is needed

Not all youngsters who are adjudicated juvenile offenders are suitable candidates, however, for
probation. We recognize that there must be due consideration given to factors of accountability
and protection of individuals in the community. Indeed, in some circumstances involving
youngsters who are incorrigible or so committed to engaging in antisocial and juvenile offenses,
it may become necessary to detain them even in pretrial custody. Thus, juvenile court judges and
judicial officers must develop the keen insight and judgment to identify those individual
juveniles where detention is necessary for the protection of individuals in our communities and
to achieve their rehabilitation to the extent possible. In such situations, concerns for
accountability and punishment must also play a role in the disposition. Such detention must not
be in adult facilities, to ensure that these children are not abused and harmed nor educated in the
ways of becoming hardened criminals, but should rather be in separate juvenile detention
facilities where their behaviors can be addressed and hopefully corrected. Of the highest priority
is the development and utilization of risk assessment tools to determine who should be detained.
These tools must be carefully designed and applied as not to sweep too broadly to include in the
net for detention those youngsters who can be released into the community with suitable
monitoring and supervision so as not to be a threat to the safety of any individual in the
community.

Further, a prudent legislative policy should leave in the hands of experienced juvenile court
judges the decision as to which juveniles should be prosecuted as adults. In some exceptional
cases involving violent, habitual, and older offenders, public safety considerations may mandate
handling that child in the adult criminal justice system. Such an approach continues our
cherished tradition of permitting individualized justice based on the conduct involved in the
incident and the personal history of the individual youngster. A juvenile should be dealt with
through individualized justice considerations based on his or her own conduct and particular
needs, rather than a process solely dictated by the offense. These considerations are ill-served
when the prosecutor is given the authority to file charges directly against a juvenile at a specific
age and the offense involves multiple offenders, some of whom are adults and others juveniles,
but who may be prosecuted as adults solely because the prosecution wishes to try the case only
one time and not to expose the government’s witnesses to multiple cases in different courts. It is
also frequently the case that it is not clear at the beginning whether a juvenile was merely
present, and thus perhaps only a material witness, or whether the juvenile was an aider and
abettor in the particular incident that is the subject of the criminal charges. Further, it appears that
far more juveniles are prosecuted as adults in criminal court when a prosecutor is given the
authority to file directly against a youth, and thus the net pulls far more youths into adult criminal
court then may be in the interest of a sound criminal justice system or a sound juvenile justice
system. With the benefit of specific knowledge and information about the offender and the
offense, experienced juvenile court judges are best able to select the most serious, violent, and
chronic juvenile offenders to be transferred after due process hearings in open court to an adult
court for criminal prosecution. In all cases, it’s important to remember that a 14-year-old
sentenced to 10 years in adult prison for unarmed robbery in a purse snatching will return as a
24-year-old who has spent the formative years without affection or guidance and often the
subject of prison abuse.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that judges serving on juvenile courts should not be isolated

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from the community in which they serve, merely sitting on the bench and going to and from
home and otherwise leading a very private existence. Rather, they have a duty to reach out to the
community and tap community resources on behalf of children. Further, they can urge the
creation of community resources and programs for children. They can also talk to civic clubs and
community organizations to obtain better services for children and youth. They can encourage
broader opportunities and exposures for our youths through internships, work-study experiences,
and community involvement. Such activities could help mold their values and attitudes in a way
to decrease the likelihood that they will engage in conduct detrimental to their own advancement
and achievement. Simultaneously, this improved behavior would promote the safety and
protection of all citizens in the community. Such activities would advance the administration of
justice, especially in our juvenile courts, and could well reduce the number of juvenile
delinquency cases and criminal cases in adult court that would thereafter come into the court
system.

In conclusion, a revitalized and reinvigorated juvenile court in this century, adequately financed
by the legislature, and staffed with dedicated and committed judges and support staff, can
significantly reverse the crime trends in America. However, no court system by itself can solve
the delinquency or crime problem. The circumstances of poverty and other socioeconomic
factors in our society, along with cultural and diversity issues and personality of individuals, will
continue to have a significant role on delinquency and crime in the United States. But to the
extent that sufficient funding and adequate human resources are made available to the juvenile
courts, they can function effectively to achieve the mission of rehabilitating many juvenile
offenders, reducing recidivism in those who come before the court, and, to a significant degree,
reduce the number of individuals who go on to become adult criminal offenders. In this way, the
juvenile courts of the future can make a significant contribution to improving the quality of lives
of the individuals who come before them and to a significant degree improve the quality of life in
the communities they serve, including some incremental increase in the protection and safety of
the citizens living in those communities. n

Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., has served more than 12 years on the bench of the superior Court of the
District of Columbia and is currently a senior judge. He was a U.S. magistrate judge with the
U.S. district court for the District of Columbia for more than 14 years. He now serves as the
Superior court’s community relations liaison judge, generating community support for the
creation of mentoring and other programs to reduce juvenile delinquency and prevent recidivism.
He also works with many groups in the District of Columbia to improve the foster care system,
the operation of the adoption programs, and the handling of neglect and abuse cases. He also
serves as the “judge-in-residence” with the Black Community Crusade for Children at the
Children’s Defense Fund, promoting such programs and activities nationally in dealing with
children in the juvenile delinquency, foster care, and adoption systems. In addition, he is senior
cochair of the Criminal Justice magazine editorial board.

Return to Spring 2000 Table of Contents

Return to Criminal Justice magazine home page

https://www.americanbar.org/content/aba/publications/criminal_justice_magazine_home/crimjust_cjmag_15_1_toc.html

https://www.americanbar.org/content/aba/publications/criminal_justice_magazine_home/crimjust_cjmag_home.html

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