Within the context of policing, discretion refers to power, the ability to make decisions that directly affect the life of a subject who is being policed. When a subject in question is underage, naturally the degree of the leeway allowed becomes a topic of ethical debates. Police officers faced with a juvenile under arrest makes their decisions based on the balance of legal and situational factors relevant to the case. The legal factors include the seriousness of the crime committed, the frequency of the criminal behavior and the degree of involvement with the juvenile policing services before the particular offense (Fuller, 2009). Thus, a police officer is likely to be less strict in their decisions if a teenager is faced with a first-time minor charge. The situational factors include the family situation of an arrested teenager, the district they live in and other variables that, in the eyes of the police officer, determine how likely they are to commit crimes in the future. The final factor that influences discretion in these cases concerns the attitude displayed by the arrested, such as their perceived degree of regret and general manners. Taking these variables into account I would decide on the scale of punishment and overall consequences for the juvenile.
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The rational choice theory and its application to the policing process factors into deciding whether to exercise discretion or not. The theory states that people are free in choosing their behaviors, and are guided by the desire to avoid pain and pursue pleasure (Akers, 1990). In the situation of policing a juvenile, I would take into account their previous criminal history or lack of thereof, to see which of these factors affects their behavior more. Some of the most common criminal offenses showcased by the teenagers are guided by the pursuit of pleasure or its results, with shoplifting and drunken vandalism being the examples. Hence if an arrested teenager has a history of previous offenses, particularly if similarly structured, one might assume that their desire for pleasure outweighs their respect for the law and chose a harsher punishment. However, if a subject was arrested for the first time, discretion can be shown under the assumption that they will be motivated to avoid further offenses to avoid pain.
Conflict theory perceives crime as a consequence of social and economic forces operating within the society. From this point of view an arrested juvenile is likely to be a member of socially disenfranchised group or come from a poorer background with low levels of financial safety. If this is the case, my likelihood of showing discretion would increase, both out of sympathy for the arrested and out of desire to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline. Since the teenagers from impoverished neighbourhoods are more likely to be arrested both before and after growing up, alternative forms of accountability and social rehabilitation must be introduced. With the theory of conflict in mind, I would have been likely to opt for an administrative punishment and registration with a juvenile police service. I would also exercise my power to emphasize the rehabilitation aspect of this registration. However, it is important to keep in mind that every individual special case is a part of the larger pattern and system (Round, 1960). In the end, it is an officer’s task to take into account all the risks for an individual and the society before making a decision.
Akers, R. (1990). Rational Choice, Deterrence, and Social Learning Theory in Criminology: The Path Not Taken. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), 81(3), 653-676. Web.
Fuller, J. (2009). Juvenile Delinquency, Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Pound, R. (1960). Discretion, dispensation and mitigation: the problem of the individual special case. NYUL Rev., 35, 925. Web.