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Juvenile Court System - Articles Surfing

The Houses of Refuge were the first institutions that dealt with juveniles in terms of transforming them and putting them back on the right path in life. These houses were the prototypes of the modern juvenile courts as we know it today in the United States. 1823 was the year when the idea of creation such a construction appeared, that was when the government considered taking charge in cleaning up the city streets from loitering youth and acquainting them with moral principles of the society.

In the mid of 1800's special reform schools began opening in the Massachusetts area, this in time led to the formation of a new and separate juvenile system in the US that wasn't known before. These schools not only educated delinquent youth but also set rules for the rest of the society, in case when those rules were not followed it automatically meant that the law was broken. The Crouse case was the formal foundation of the modern juvenile justice system, the government legitimized the notion of the state taking custody over child for the first time. The Juvenile Court Act of 1899 was the first official court of its type in the US that outlined the cases that it could have jurisdiction over and that separated it from the adult courts.

From the very creation of the juvenile courts and the ideal model of it to the present time, society has been dealing with a huge gap between this ideal and the reality. Before the 1960's there was no legal rights that juveniles had, thus due processes were introduced and system moved away from the idea of child being somebody's property: either of state or of the parents. After the 1980's and to the present moment the initial idea of protecting children from bad influences and helping to rehabilitate, shifted to a more dramatic and strict system of identifying measure of harm for the society by a specific crime. The "punitive model" now serves for detection of harm level and accordingly assigning punishment for it. Numerous social factors have results in such changes; massive paranoia of increased number of violent crimes, abuse of drugs by the young, mass formation of the gangs. All of that coupled with the failure to accomplish the purpose of juvenile schools as they were intended to, led to the current punitive system that seeks to punish severely. "Mens rea"- guilty mind is not the prerogative of the adult offenders as was supposed in the early history of the American juvenile system; it became an essential part of today's juvenile criminals' portrait.

There are number of theories that support the idea of an individual making a choice to commit a delinquent act. Those theories are: the choice theory, the deterrence theory- supporting classical school of criminology. On the other side there are biological theories that were based on the positive school. Morphological approach, Lombrozo's atavism theory, Sheldon's somatotype theory are theories proving the existence of the biological factor in forming of the delinquent individual. They are also influence by the genetic and inherited factors, such as criminals in the family-learning of the young to behave in the same way; delinquent twins are also more likely to both commit a crime than a regular person. Sarnoff Mednick's studies on the adopted children made clear that the highest percentage of delinquent behavior was observed when both environmental and biological factors were combined. Conclusion could be drawn that none on two separate causes can fully be responsible for the amount of juvenile criminals nowadays.

Apart from the theories described above, there are numerous theories that study criminal behavior and origins from the point of societal position and economic condition of the individual. Famous Chicago project by McKay and Shaw proved that depending on what part of the city and neighborhood one grew up, a person was influenced accordingly. Thus children from the interstitial zone with cultural heterogeneity and high mobility and poverty were the ones under particularly bad influence that could result in future crimes. Strain theory is another support of the fact that people with unequal opportunities to achieve success in society would most likely commit crime while adopting their lives to the rest of the society. Cloward and Ohlin on the other side argued that juveniles do not just commit crimes if they cannot reach the middle class status by regular means, they claim that illegitimate opportunity structure in certain neighborhoods works as a unique society on its own. It gives opportunity of growth and learning as in educational institution with similar rewards, although on illegal terms.

The study of delinquencies and social impact led researches to the realization the social processes are of the great importance when studying the nature of the crimes. Social process theories, learning and social control theories, are dealing with the connection between socialization and delinquencies. Learning theory explains how and why juvenile commit crimes in terms of school and learning. In the process of learning, they get to see and know what it is and how crimes are performed and because of other multiple facts they choose to do it. In contrast, the social control theory states that some people choose a wrong path because they are not tied to any important part of their life such as family, friends, or job. Clearly they have not much to lose and having no bonds with society, they are most likely to commit a crime.

With the emergence of innovative technology and social classes inequality people were faced with numerous choices of behavior. Behavior of an individual is formed by multiple factors, outer and inner ones that are very hard to track and can never be studied and evaluated precisely. Therefore the driving forces of the crime are yet not studied well enough and the punishment measures cannot help prevent from future crimes. The gap between the two is ever-growing nowadays.

Submitted by:

Jeff Stats

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