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The Failures of the Current Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system in the United States is flawed on multiple levels. This social issue attracts considerable attention from popular media and scholars who examine its roots and repercussions. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson partially focuses on injustices that juvenile criminals undergo and how the system which is supposed to rehabilitate these troubled adolescents instead vilifies and dooms them. Similarly, Mears et al. in “Support for Balanced Juvenile Justice: Assessing Views About Youth, Rehabilitation, and Punishment” argues for a more sensible based on the need to help rather than penalize approach to sentencing underage individuals. Another article, “Examining the Prevalence of a “Youth Discount” in the Juvenile Justice System” by Morrow et al. investigates the effect of age and ethnicity on the severity of punishment. The three sources allow for an overarching understanding of the problems and biases within the country’s juvenile system.

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Stevenson provides real-life examples of the issue theoretically outlined in “Examining the Prevalence of a “Youth Discount” in the Juvenile Justice System,” particularly that race, even in the juvenile justice system, impacts the severity of a sentence. Morrow et al. (479) establish that “youth discount” that typically alleviates Caucasian delinquents’ punishment is neutralized if a child belongs to an ethnic minority. In Just Mercy, one can see instances of the conclusion reached in the article. Stories of Antonio Nuñez, a Latino boy, and George Stinney, an African-American child who was sentenced without parole when aged under 15, exemplify the issue outlined in the scholarly text. It is stated that “by 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime” (Stevenson 157). Moreover, the majority of the youngest condemned children belong to an ethnic minority (Stevenson 157). Hence, a commonality between the two texts can be seen, disclosing institutional racism of the juvenile justice system.

In addition to investigating how race and age affect the severity of punishment, “Examining the Prevalence of a “Youth Discount” in the Juvenile Justice System” considers detention rates, an issue that Stevenson overlooks. Morrow et al. indicate that Latino and Black youth, from the outset, have a higher likelihood of being arrested (480). In the case of ethnic minorities, reasons for detention are frequently less grave in comparison to Caucasian youth. Furthermore, the lack of evidence is overlooked more quickly, and decisions are taken groundlessly. The case of George Stinney, convicted of rape and murder at the age of 14, demonstrates that. George was detained and sentenced to death without proper evidence: the only basis for the decision was that the boy claimed that he had seen girls the same evening they were murdered (Stevenson 161). However, this parallel between the two texts is imperfect because Stevenson does not focus on detention in the lens text. Yet, including this facet into the discourse helps to accentuate the scope of prejudice in the juvenile justice system.

According to the lens text, the juvenile court emphasizes punishment instead of rehabilitation. The stories of children sentenced to death or life sentences in Stevenson’s work accentuate this idea. At the same time, Mears et al. (459) give an opinion suggesting that priority has always been given to rehabilitation. Initially, it was presupposed that juvenile court would act as a surrogate parent acting considering youth’s best interests and protecting them from the dangers of the adult justice system (Mears et al. 459). On the contrary, the lens text demonstrates instances when children and adolescents are imprisoned without parole for non-homicide offenses, an injustice even in the framework of the adult justice system. Hence, Stevenson states that “most adults convicted of the kinds of crimes with which Trina, Ian, and Antonio [juvenile delinquents who received a life sentence] were charged are not sentenced to life imprisonment without parole” (160). One sees examples in the lens text that call some of the target text’s arguments about the child justice system favoring rehabilitation into question.

If the idea regarding the nature of the juvenile justice system outlined in the target text were correct, one would expect to see different outcomes in the lens text. Nonetheless, multiple accounts emphasize the divergence between the ideals and standards of the juvenile justice system and the actual practice – the lens text is abundant with examples of such disparity. Given that per the target text, the system is supposed to rehabilitate, if this claim were valid 14-years-old Tina showing signs of mental disability would not have been sentenced to life imprisonment due to an unintentional arson-murder. The number of children with a similar fate, who were given life sentences or extreme penalties without parole potentially exceeds thousands (Stevenson 165). The vast majority of these children remain anonymous, and their stories are unheard, which complicates the provision of justice (Stevenson 165). The issue suggests that a more balanced juvenile justice system is needed as well as addressing institutional racism present in it.

The author of the target text encourages the idea that balanced juvenile justice could alleviate some of the identified problems. Indeed in the target text, one sees the endorsement for a system emphasizing not only punishment but also rehabilitation (Mears et al. 459). Additionally, research performed by Mears et al. shows that “a balanced approach to youth justice or a primarily rehabilitative approach to sanctioning young offenders” is the most commonly supported publically (460). Considering that the lens text demonstrates that a punitive approach predominates in the current justice system, particularly when racial minorities are concerned, helping juvenile delinquents grow and change could help break the vicious cycle of injustice. The adult-like treatment of child offenders that Stevenson illustrates in his book contradicts the principles of a balanced justice and excludes the rehabilitative aspect (Mears et al. 466). Hence, the two texts partially coincide in describing the present system as punitive and not accounting for differences between adult and adolescent and child offenders.

The examined texts provide an insight into the flaws of the juvenile justice system and the conceptual framework on which it is based. Just Mercy crystallizes the fundamental problems that commonly occur when processing young offenders. The two selected scholarly articles shed light on how ethnicity nullifies “youth discount” and the punitive nature of the system. The lens text prepares the ground to perceive information regarding the correlation between punishment and rehabilitation more cautiously. Moreover, “Examining the Prevalence of a “Youth Discount” in the Juvenile Justice System” gives an in-depth understanding of racial injustice in the system, which is only briefly discussed in the lens text. Overall, reformation and racial injustice are significant notions in social sciences, comprehending which allows for more critical perception of the current juvenile justice system.

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Works Cited

Mears, Daniel P., et al. “Support dor Balanced Juvenile Justice: Assessing Views About Youth, Rehabilitation, and Punishment.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, vol. 31, no. 3, 2015, pp. 459-479.

Morrow, Weston J., et al. “Examining the Prevalence of a “Youth Discount” in the Juvenile Justice System.” Journal of Crime and Justice, vol. 38, no. 4, 2015, pp. 473-490.

Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.

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