During the past decades, America witnessed a continuous increase in its crime rate. However, the cause of greater concern is that crimes committed by minors, both violent and non-violent offenses also reached exorbitant numbers as compared with the previous decades. The State Commission on Criminal Sentencing policy presented the facts in the era of 1980s and 1990s when the increase of juvenile arrests rose at an alarming pace, “the arrest of youths under age 15 for violent crimes grew 94 percent from 1980-1985 twice as fast as violent crime arrests for 15-,16-, and 17- year olds” (Cohn).
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While all of these happen in our present society, one cannot help but raise the question as to whether or not the existing justice system is successful in bringing about what is fair and true and if it imposes the right penalties to real perpetrators under the rule of law. There have been ongoing campaigns that prove rightfully the innocence of people involved in individual cases while those guilty of committing crimes are put to prison and pay for the costs of the crimes they committed. But somewhere along the way, at that point when justice is yet being sought after and carefully dissected, and the truth is yet to be uncovered, there is a high risk of possibility that miscarriage of truth and justice could happen for failure to observe certain rules, guidelines and processes that help determine who the real perpetrators are in the courts of law. Such failure to establish truth and justice leads the public to lose its faith and trust in the justice system and more often than not, it does not believe that justice indeed prevails under the rule of law.
The year with the highest juvenile arrest happened in 1993. 3, 800 were arrested for murder while other offenses include aggravated assault, robbery, and forcible rape cases as well. This swiftly prompted action from the government; forty-five states created reforms in their policies to address the crisis. The product is sets of policies aimed to make convicted juveniles more accountable for their actions at the same time rehabilitating the young offenders in hope that someday, they will live normal lives as respected and decent citizens of the country.
The reform measure taken by most states is called the ‘blended sentencing’. Prior to this, judges had limited options. When dealing with a child accused of a serious felony, a child can either retain the case at juvenile court or he/she pass it over to the adult system.
Blended sentences on the other hand allow a judge to simultaneously impose a juvenile disposition and an adult sentence.
Also traditionally, the juvenile justice system is centered on rehabilitation. Part of the principle is that the child convicted in this court will not receive the same harsher punitive standards and sentences administered in adult criminal court. With the blended sentence, “the youth convicted of a crime will be sentenced to time in the juvenile justice sentence and then once he is older will be transferred to the adult system if authorities decide he should not be released” (Pierce).
Organizations that fight against crime take on new identities, as they exist for various purposes. Their effectiveness and success depend on their organizational strategies and different means to combat crime and promote justice through their collective actions. In this case, there are appropriate conditions where each organizational strategy or approach will most likely be effective and highly successful.
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The most common and most effective and peaceful strategy to collectively combat crime and injustice in public education. By drawing public attention to injustices, it shames the person or party who is committing the injustice/s to change their behavior/s since the public knowledge on their offense/s is putting pressure on them. This strategy is most appropriate for criminal cases that are political in nature. It also appeals to human rights cases that are highly condemned by the public. Political prisoners, for instance, are greatly benefited by this approach.
The policy earned many positive feedbacks. Judges were given the option “for fashioning dispositions that are more offense-based, that is, to take account other individual circumstances as well as the current offense” (Jones and Connelly). The state is able to impose strict, adult sanctions without losing rehabilitative focus, on the young adults who committed heinous crimes. And in some states, a provision to extend juvenile courts’ jurisdiction from the age of 21 to 25 was added to allow for the continuation of rehabilitation or treatment of the person as needed.
On the other hand, the policy also earned quite a share of criticisms. “These statutory exclusions have ‘widened the net’ allowing a large number of less serious juveniles to be waived to criminal court and processed by adult correctional services” asserts Jones and Connelly. In 1998, about 700 juveniles have been admitted to adult prison compared to 3500 in 1985; one in ten juveniles incarcerated will be sent to an adult prison. Another impact is the increased workloads of the probation and correctional facilities that provide services for the troubled youth.
The Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families stressed some recommendations regarding the treatment of juvenile crimes and blended sentencing:
First is to identify well-documented programs, services, and treatment efforts to reduce violence…. Second [is that] children between ages 10-13 who commit serious violent crimes should be held only until the age 25…They argue that the idea should be to identify the causes of their heinous acts… and prevent them from committing offenses again.. Those children aged 10-13 should not be involved in blended sentences because they need different emotional, mental, physical, and developmental same thinking capabilities (Jones and Connelly).
In general, the impacts of blended sentencing are said to be not yet fully evaluated.
The issue that judges are following the sentencing recommendations in predisposition reports most of the time does prove that judges are abdicating their duties in this regard. In Arkansas, there is a law that allows circuit judges to send an offending youth directly to the Division of Youth Services rather than to prison, but this law is rarely used. That is why Arkansas has been described as a bended-sentence state. (Pierce).
Because of the possibility of an adult sentence by virtue of blended sentencing, the juvenile should be entitled to a jury trial. It is mandated in the constitution of this country that any person being tried at a criminal court should be entitled to a jury trial. From the Doctrine of Parens Patria, which refers to “the State’s legal role as the guardian to protect the interests of children who can not take care of themselves” (Parens Patriae), the government should act on behalf of the juveniles who are still regarded as ‘incompetent people’. The federal jurisdiction subjected upon the citizens by virtue of Parens Patriae decrees the role of the State as sovereign and guardian of persons under legal disability. Thus, from the dictum, “the children belong to the STATE” hence, it is the state’s duty to ensure these juveniles a fair, and just trial which is through a jury trial.
It is also, therefore, important that logistical problems for juvenile courts be addressed, problems like lack of jury boxes and other infrastructures. More important than the courts are the correctional institutions that would house the convicted young adult. Are they adequately provided, especially in terms of treatments to juveniles? The United States government has been recently implementing partial privatization of correctional systems. To some, this does not offer a very good prospect with the idea that private institutions are after the profit that will be generated from cost-cutting. According to Judith Greene, a criminal justice policy analyst, and privatization critic, there is a significant data showing that private prison poses more hazard for both inmates and prison employees. Because of the effort to keep labor costs low, prison security is sacrificed. She reported that Justice Department analysts discovered that there is a fifty percent higher risk of assault by inmates on staff in private prisons, and sixty percent higher rate of assaults among fellow inmates.
Some government agencies that are promoting the government agencies, universities, auditors, and research institutions conducted several researches on private and public prison systems, and they confirm that the quality of the private facilities as food or even better that of the government-run penitentiaries. These studies claim that they used serious, academic methods and sound methodological approaches in comparing the two facilities. Adrian Moore, the executive director of the Reason Public Policy Institute, and Segal, director of Privatization and Government Reform Policy, examined 28 government and institutional studies comparing public and private prisons. The findings state that 22 of the private prisons are able to reduce significantly their costs resulting in larger savings and that the facilities of the private “facilities fared well against government-run prisons in almost every measure of administrative quality, including independent accreditation, contract termination, and renewals, and the extent of court orders and litigation by prisoners.” (Bourge).
Segal reasons that the success of the privatization lies in how the government specifies in the contracts the standards to be followed by the private firms. He further adds that there should be necessary monitoring activities to check if such agreements are upheld.
Due to the rising criminality among the youth of America and also the increasing violence in the nature of their crimes, a policy of blended-sentence was formalized. This will allow juvenile and adult verdicts to be sentenced on the young criminal at the same time. However, the juvenile’s chances to be freed from the adult verdict depend on his cooperation with the justice system and his response to rehabilitation. The Doctrine of Parens Patriae can be used to support the fact that juveniles to be tried at a criminal undergo a jury trial. Judges oftentimes abdicate their duties in that they only resort to following the recommendations in predispositions reports. Private penitentiaries are fully equipped and competent when compared to public ones. And lastly, the African Americans are the most represented groups in juvenile prisons and this is accounted for bias-related arrests.
One cannot blame why some sectors in the society or even some concerned citizens, take inequities in the criminal justice system as a serious area of concern that needs quick and revolutionary action from the private, the government, including the police authorities, mainly because this concerns the lives of human beings who are entitled to some basic human rights duly protected by law. A violation of said rights inures to a breach or violation of the law, hence must deserve appropriate correction under the law. A correction may mean an overturn of conviction of the offender, a punishment to those who are responsible for the miscarriage of justice, and the like.
If the criminal justice system is able to uphold the real essence of justice in every facet of its system, it is only then that people will learn to trust its system and thus, give due respect for what it truly stands for.
Bourge, Christian. Sparks fly over private vs public prisons. 2002. Web.
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Michigan State University. Measuring Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System. 2005. Web.
Pierce, Ray. “Groupsmulls blended terms for young offenders.” Arkansas Democrat. 2008. Web.
Pope, Carl and Howard Snyder. “Race as a Factor in Juvenile Arrest.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. 2008. Web.