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Cycle of Juvenile Justice: a Way to Break It

The creation of a separate legal institution to judge the moral and immoral behavior of our youth did not exist until the early 1800s. There was a time when youths were subjected to the same laws and due process as adults and when found guilty, dealt the same punishment. Today’s Juvenile justice system has been created through decades of debate, social and political actions, and economic concerns (Elrod & Ryder, 2005). The question became what was the best way to deal with these youth and rehabilitate them? That very question led to Thomas J. Bernard recognizing a pattern that made up the cycle of juvenile justice. This pattern considers two opposing viewpoints; one is that delinquency is a cry for aid from youths who are trapped in environments that may be construed as abusive or neglectful to them. This view finds that the only way to treat these youths is to help them focus their energies therapeutically. The second viewpoint is that juveniles are a subsection of the population who do not adhere to the same social norms as other people and thus the only way to deal with them is through harsher punishments. Bernard believed that it was due to the alternating cycles these two viewpoints represent today’s youth will continue to be trapped in a system that cannot help them (Bernard, 1991). This paper will ask whether there is a way to break the cycle or is history doomed to repeat itself.

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In his book, Bernard himself speaks of the need to adopt balanced strategies which endorse both responsibility and consequences (Bernard, 1991). Although it may seem simple in theory to create such a system that would balance out both aspects several factors stand in its way. Firstly, there will always be an argument among lawmakers, politicians, and the public regarding which option of better, rehabilitation or punishment. The case for both methodologies is not clear cut and dry, as can be seen from the impact public opinion and economics have on both legislations. There will also be concerns that while rehabilitation remains a lofty goal, receiving actual outcomes from it however is a completely different story. There will always be debates among the public regarding the rights of the delinquent versus the rights of the victim. Other debates will come up as well, such as consideration of institutions versus community centers for treatment. There is also a danger of a wide disparity within private and public sector treatment options similar to what can be seen in today’s private and public sector schools (Heilbrun, Goldstein, & Redding, 2005).

It is difficult to conceive that with all these factors the cycle will ever come to an end. While it is true that the current system has aided some youth, the detrimental effect it is having on their social and personal development cannot be ignored. With the recent economic crisis, there will be other social factors such as poverty, low funds for child welfare, and a declining job rate that seem to be poised to cause the delinquency rate to rise shortly (Heilbrun, Goldstein, & Redding, 2005).

It is difficult to say whether the system will ever find a foothold that offers stable, lasting, and fair legislation to these youth. It is inevitable that the get-tough trend will continue for some time and that taking apart and re-evaluating the system now would simply not be seen as feasible by many. Perhaps when these individual decision-makers turn their eyes towards not the delinquents, but the social factors that create them some form of true justice will be found.

Reference List

Bernard, T. J. (1991). The Cycle of Juvenile Justice p.13-31. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Elrod, P., & Ryder, R. S. (2005). Juvenile justice: a social, historical, and legal perspective p.4-7. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Heilbrun, K., Goldstein, N. E., & Redding, R. E. (2005). Juvenile delinquency: prevention, assessment, and intervention p.140-141. New York: Oxford University Press USA.

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