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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 69839 Find in a Library
Title: Background Paper
Journal: Institute of Criminal Justice  Volume:2  Dated:(1980)  Pages:7-26
Author(s): S D Henson
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 9
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This background paper for a 1979 conference on juvenile justice reform discusses the philosophy and court cases underlying the present system and the need for reform, with emphasis on just deserts theory.
Abstract: A large proportion of U.S. crime is committed by youth. The present juvenile justice system is characterized by ambivalence about punishing or protecting the youthful offender. Current attitudes toward crime and punishment date from the nineteenth century's attitudes of puritanism and scientific positivism. Penal reform at the beginning of the twentieth century emphasized the medical model and the rehabilitative goal. Although several court cases have brought some standardization to the adjudication phase of the juvenile court process, these cases have not affected early phases of a juvenile's involvement, the rehabilitative ideal, or disposition. The unstructured discretion and erratic treatment of juveniles needs reform. Key problems include the Parens Patriae doctrine and the resulting concern with status offenses, the addition of adult court functions to the court's social welfare function following the Gault decision, the wide discretion involved in dispositions, and the failure to face the issue of punishment. To establish fairer sentencing practices, numerous proposals to adopt just deserts principles have been advanced. Just deserts theory holds that it is appropriate to stigmatize crime, that punishment should be crime's consequence, that punishment should be proportional to the crime's seriousness, and that most existing penalties should be reduced. Three recent major reform proposals have incorporated the essentials of a just deserts scheme for juveniles. The state of Washington has legislatively set juvenile sentencing guidelines providing for mandatory institutionalization for serious offenders. The law retains judicial discretion but tries to structure it. Until the juvenile justice system faces the problems of crime and punishment, policy can be only ambivalent. Footnotes are included.
Index Term(s): Correctional reform; Custody vs treatment conflict; Just deserts theory; Juvenile justice system
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