Chapter 21, Section 4
This chapter provides the participant with a generalized
perspective of the juvenile justice system as it pertains to the
administration of justice and issues of importance to victims
of crime. Included within the presentation and discussion is information
concerning the differences between the juvenile justice and adult
criminal justice systems. This chapter also addresses a variety
of issues ranging from the impact of domestic violence, sexual
and physical abuse upon children and how such crimes are perpetuated
through the cycle of violence, to the effectiveness of prevention
and offender conciliation programs involving juvenile offenders
and their victims.
Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the
1. The original intent of the juvenile justice system.
2. The characteristics unique to the juvenile justice system,
as well as to victims of juvenile offenders.
3. The nature of confidentiality as applied in the juvenile justice
4. The range of sanctions available for juvenile offenders.
(The preceding statistics are derived from "Juvenile Offender
and Victims: A Focus on Violence," May 1995, by Howard N.
Snyder and Melissa Sickmund, National Center for Juvenile Justice,
Pittsburgh, PA and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention, Washington, DC.)
One of the greatest threats to individual and community safety in the United States is the astounding increase in juvenile crime and, in particular, violent crimes committed by our nation's youth. They murder, rape, rob, assault, steal, and commit arson at unprecedented rates. They intimidate their family, their friends, and their communities. They flood a juvenile justice system that is ill-equipped to deal with the steady onslaught of arrests. And "they" are just children, long termed "the future of America" whose futures too often hold promise of despair, dysfunction and even death by violent means.
Since the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime published its Final Report in 1992, the number of children committing crimes -- as well as being victimized by crime -- have considerably increased. In 1991, victims attributed about one in four personal crimes (28 percent) to juvenile offenders under age 18 (Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS], 1992). That same year, juveniles were responsible for about one in five violent crimes (19 percent) (BJS, 1992).
The high level of violent crime committed by youth in 1992 is
even more shocking when one considers the increase in violent
crime over the past decade. Figure 1 depicts the levels of violent
crimes committed by juveniles in 1992, as well as the percentage
increase in arrests of juveniles for these crimes since 1983 (Snyder
and Sickmund, 1995, p. 3, p. 10):
Type of % Committed by % Increase in Arrests
Violent Crime Juveniles in 1992 since 1983
Murder 9% 128%
Aggravated assault 12% 95%
Forcible rape 14% 25%
Compounding the many other startling issues that any crime victim is confronted with, is the realization that the administration of juvenile justice differs greatly from that of the adult criminal justice system. Historically, the juvenile justice system has evolved over the years based upon the underlying premise that juveniles are and must be treated differently from adults.
In the early 20th century, when formal distinctions were made between the adult and juvenile justice systems, it was believed that many youthful offenders were errant children who were in need of simple guidance and advice in order to resurrect them from a life of debauchery and crime. During the early years following the turn of the century, juvenile crime was often characterized by acts of truancy, petty thievery or burglary.
In this separately designed justice process, every effort was made to divert the child from the criminal justice system. Churches, community groups and social workers were enlisted to provide guidance and assistance the errant offender in modifying his or her behavior. Youthful offenders were often required to serve periods of time under the supervision of a truant or probation officer. Every effort was made to provide necessary assistance through non-institutional treatment. When institutionalization was necessary, youthful offenders were housed within schools of industry where attempts were made to provide them with vocational training
Within this historical context, it is important for every victim
advocate to understand that there are some characteristics about
the administration of the juvenile justice system that are clearly
distinct from the adult justice system. It is also important to
note that those characteristics are undergoing close scrutiny
regarding their effectiveness in modern day society. Understanding
these distinctions are crucial to providing support and much needed
information to victims and their families.
There are a variety of significant differences between America's
juvenile justice and adult justice systems. While these differences
are enumerated throughout this chapter, it is helpful to know
and understand differences in terminology, as depicted in the
|Being "found guilty"||A "finding"|
|Getting locked up||A placement|
In addition, victims of juvenile offenders share many unique characteristics, due in large part to the lack of rights and services afforded to them by juvenile justice systems throughout the United States. While 30,000 statutes have been passed that designate and enforce crime victims' rights in America, only a handful of these apply to victims of juvenile offenders. Such omissions create tremendous hardships for individuals who are victimized by adolescents and children.
Characteristics unique to victims of juvenile offender include, but are not limited to:
Most states have included provisions within their juvenile justice
statutes that mandate ensuring the confidentiality of the juvenile
offender. These laws were enacted to avoid stigmatizing the youthful
offender with every expectation that such information would only
serve to impede any rehabilitative efforts. Consequently, information
regarding the name and age of the offender is often unavailable
to the victim from law enforcement and juvenile court records.
Similarly, juvenile court proceedings are confidential and generally
exclude all persons from the actual hearing, other than court
personnel. In many states, the records of the juvenile court proceedings
are sealed after the offender has reached adulthood and the dispositions
of juvenile cases cannot be considered in any future criminal
proceedings as an adult.
As noted above, the profile and nature of juvenile criminal activity have changed drastically during the past two decades. The violent and increasingly serious nature of the crimes committed by young criminals no longer resembles the crimes committed by juveniles when these statutes were enacted. In light of the emerging seriousness of crimes now committed by juveniles, and because of the advancement of victims' rights, several states are changing existing statutes to allow victim access to information about the offender's status. It is important that advocates have knowledge of these confidentiality constraints, and that they be able to explain them sufficiently to victims and their families.
In most states, the juvenile justice system is governed by specially created statutes generally associated with the administration of social welfare or programming. As such, these statutes are separate from the adult criminal justice statutes and contain significant differences in the provisions for administering justice. In this regard, the terminology is frequently different as it was developed within a different framework so as not to stigmatize the youthful offender. Within this framework, the terminology frequently differs that used within adult criminal proceedings. For example:
It is important that victim advocates become familiar with the
statutory provisions, procedural operation and terminology of
the juvenile justice system within their respective locales. The
advocate can not only serve to support the victim or victim's
family, but can act to advocate for change where necessary.
Each state differs in its definition of youthful offenders who fall under the jurisdiction of and can be governed by juvenile justice statutes:
It is this latter trend that has advanced in the United States during the past decade, with an increasing number of states enacting statutes that provide for youthful offenders to be tried as adults. Many states have enacted statutes that provide that 14- to 17-year-old offenders can be tried and convicted as adults for serious offenses such as murder, rape and crimes involving weapons. Some states, such as Missouri, have no age limitations to remand to adult criminal courts.
One other factor involving age pertains to the period of time
a youthful offender can be incarcerated. Many states incarcerate
juvenile offenders for a period of up to no more that the age
of 25. Others have enacted statutes that provide for the transfer
of serious youthful offenders to the adult penal system after
a given age to finish the remainder of their designated period
of incarceration. Again, it is important for the advocate to become
familiar with the various provisions of local statutes as they
pertain to age, and the juvenile justice systems as they vary
greatly from state to state.
Within the juvenile justice system, most states employ a progressive array of sanctions for juvenile offenders. Among these sanctions are the use of diversionary practices aimed at averting the juvenile justice system and redirecting youthful offenders from their criminal activity. These diversionary opportunities are generally characterized by programs such as parental and child counseling, police youth activities, community service, drug prevention education and informal probation; they are generally used with first time, non-violent offenders.
Every attempt is made to engage juvenile offenders in some endeavor
that will serve to provide information regarding the consequences
of their actions, while redirecting their "at-risk"
behavior into a more positive direction. Often times these programs
will impose restitution as a provision of diversion. Victims should
understand that this sanction is the earliest form of intervention
used with first-time offenders.
As discussed elsewhere in this curriculum, victims or surviving family members are often given the opportunity to submit or make statements prior to sentencing in adult cases. An increasing number of states are passing statutes which extend the same right to victims and their surviving family members in juvenile cases:
Probation is the sanction used most in both adult and juvenile
cases. This sanction of community supervision is imposed by the
juvenile court. Probation is generally characterized by requirements,
known as terms and conditions of probation, that delineate expected
behavior which the probationer must adhere to for a given period
of time. Terms and conditions can include educational programs
(e.g., GED), community service, counseling programs, restitution
requirements and participation in drug counseling programs. Terms
and conditions can also be imposed that restrict the offender
from contacting the victim or from harassing the victim in any
way. Restitution can also be ordered as a term of probation. Differing
from diversion, the probationer must have regular contact with
a probation officer to demonstrate compliance with conditions
Often, juvenile courts will commit offenders to select community
treatment programs. Such residential counseling centers and drug
treatment programs are designed to hold offenders accountable
while assisting them in learning the life skills necessary to
re-integrate into society. The programs may be located in local
communities or within adjoining jurisdictions or states.
With the exception of serious and violent offenders, youth detention facilities are generally considered the disposition of last resort for young offenders within the juvenile justice system. Usually operated by state government or private corporations that enter into contractual agreements with jurisdictions, the facilities are the modern day counterparts of the schools of industry that emerged after the turn of the century. The detention facilities of today operate using a combination of contemporary correctional and treatment programs that differ from those within adult institutions. Most continue to operate within a framework of rehabilitation, providing educational and vocational training within an institutional setting. The changing profile of the more violent, less responsive, juvenile offender has also resulted in a greater emphasis upon operating secure facilities with increased attention to incarceration and safety within the institution. Most states are also experiencing problems with overcrowding of facilities, which further impedes rehabilitation efforts.
It is important for advocates and victims alike to understand
the differences associated with the operation and administration
of youth detention facilitates. Most markedly, youthful offenders
are generally required to serve shorter sentences within such
facilities than their adult counterparts in prison. Finally, it
is important for victims to realize that most youthful offenders
are eventually returned to the community.
Many states are enacting statutes or administrative policies that
afford victims opportunities to participate in juvenile parole
hearings. Each parole board considers many factors in determining
whether an individual should be released from custody. Among the
factors considered are the offender's progress toward educational
or vocational goals and his or her overall behavior while incarcerated.
In addition, it is important for the juvenile paroling authority
to consider the seriousness of the original offense for which
the person was incarcerated, and the overall impact upon his or
her release back into the community. While many states still restrict
such statements at parole hearings, it is increasingly being accepted
as an important part of a comprehensive parole eligibility assessment.
Similar to probation in its design and functioning, parole (also
called "aftercare") is granted to juveniles who are
released after having served a period of detention or incarceration
when they are returning to society. Parole officers can be a valuable
asset to advocates in ensuring that youthful offenders refrain
from contacting or harassing the victim of the offender in any
way. Generally, when a person successfully completes a period
of parole or aftercare supervision, he or she is discharged from
the jurisdiction of the state.
Restitution, as described in other chapters contained in this curriculum, is sometimes available to victims of crime. The requirement of the payment of restitution to a victim is an extremely effective tool to hold youthful offenders accountable. Court imposed or diversionary agreements of restitution are very constructive forms of rehabilitation. Youthful offenders can learn much about the impact of their crime by being required to make monthly payments in any amount. Such a payment schedule adds a realistic and constant reminder of the financial impact that their actions had upon the victim. In addition, restitution provides the offender with an opportunity to repay the victim and attempt to "right the wrongs" they have committed against another. Restitution programs present many difficulties from administrative to inability of offenders to pay. These are even more pronounced in juvenile restitution programs. However, this should not deter programs from attempting and enforcing juvenile restitution.
Community restitution is also an effective form of rehabilitation, and often proves satisfactory to victims as a disposition in their case. Offenders are required to perform some community service to satisfy the terms and conditions of diversion or probation. This type of activity often serves to provide the youthful offender with some sense of social responsibility while repaying society and a victim for the negative impact of their criminal activity. In some communities, victims are allowed to offer input into the type of community restitution that their youthful offender must complete.
In many instances, restitution cannot realistically be expected
as the offender may be indigent or is sentenced to prison or a
detention facility for a long period of time. In other instances,
restitution may be difficult as teenagers often have problems
finding jobs, and school requirements preclude their involvement
in work. Each advocate must be realistic in their work with the
victims of juvenile offenders. It is not productive to set unrealistic
expectations for restitution payments when the opportunity for
success may be limited. Advocates would do well to counsel victims
as to the realistic feasibility of restitution in such cases.
An increasing number of victims and surviving family members have
begun to participate in victim impact panels with juvenile offenders,
both in non-institutional and institutional settings. Generally
guided by victim advocates or organizations, victims of crime
have addressed groups of young offenders, describing to them the
impact of crime upon their lives. Such panels are conducted for
groups of offenders including first-time offenders and those serving
periods of incarceration. The panels serve as a form of empowerment
to participating victims, as it affords them opportunities to
symbolically confront and educate a community of offenders whose
behavior represents that which caused them injury or personal
suffering. For the offender, victims provide some much needed
insight into the impact of their criminal behavior in human terms.
Research published by MADD National Office in 1995 shows significant
benefits for both victims and offenders.
Victim-offender mediation and conciliation programs involve face-to-face
meetings, in the presence of a trained mediator, between an individual
who has been victimized by a crime and the perpetrator of that
crime. Victim-offender mediation programs operate within the context
of the criminal justice system, rather than the civil courts.
Historically, these programs have been instituted successfully
within the juvenile justice system, most significantly in cases
involving property offenses. The purpose of such meetings is to
provide the victim with an opportunity to gain insight into the
reasons why an offender committed the crime, and to confront that
offender regarding the impact of the crime. The meetings also
provide the offender with information regarding the real life
human consequences of their actions. These meetings often result
in agreements in which juvenile offenders perform some restitution-related
service directly for the victim. Victim-offender programs also
focus on the need for closure, on the expression of feelings,
and on greater understanding of the event and of each other. Victim
participation in any mediation or conciliation programs
must be strictly voluntary. Great caution must be taken
to avoid the specter of even the most subtle, unintended coercion
of victims to participate.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 created new federal crime provisions for juvenile offenders. The following is a summary of these provisions:
The Act amended current federal law to permit adult prosecution of 13 to 14-year-olds charged with certain crimes of violence, including robbery or aggravated sexual abuse committed with a firearm. It should be noted that this provision does not apply to offenses committed by Indian juveniles in Indian Country if the jurisdiction for the offense is solely within Indian Country. However, exceptions to this can occur if the tribe elects to subject the tribe to the new provision under the Act.
In addition, the Act adds several serious firearms offenses to
prosecuting juvenile offenders as adults. For example, in determining
whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult, the Act requires
courts to consider the extent to which the juvenile played a leadership
role in an organization, or otherwise influenced others to take
part in criminal activities, involving the use of, or distribution
of, firearms or drugs.
The 1994 Violent Crime Control Act establishes a federal
offense when juveniles under 18 years of age knowingly possess
a handgun or handgun ammunition.
In addition the Act establishes that:
In addition, the penalty for an adult who transfers a handgun or handgun ammunition to a juvenile is generally one year imprisonment. Under the new federal law, if the adult knew or had reasonable cause to know that the juvenile intended to possess or use the handgun or ammunition in a crime of violence, the maximum penalty is 10 years of imprisonment.
Previous federal laws state that a licensed firearms dealer who
transfers any firearm to a person under 18 years of age, or any
firearm other than a rifle or shotgun to a person under 21 years
of age, is subject to a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment.
Juveniles and Drugs
With respect to using minors to distribute drugs in or near a
protected zone the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act also
created new criminal provisions. The Act tripled the maximum penalty
for using a minor to distribute drugs around or within 1,000 feet
of a protected location, such as a school, college, playground,
or public swimming pool. In addition, it tripled the maximum penalty
for using a minor to assist in avoiding detection or apprehension
for drug dealing at or near a protected location.
In 1994, the American Correctional Association published 16 recommendations to initiate and enhance rights and service for victims of juvenile offenders. This landmark publication included the following:
In the National Juvenile Justice Action Plan published
in 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice affirmed its commitment
to supporting improved rights and services for victims of juvenile
offenders. The Plan included the following response to
"As a civilized society, we need to feel safe in the company of people who walk our streets and attend our schools. Even if we improve the juvenile justice system so that it is capable of providing treatment, skills training, and rehabilitation, mechanisms must be in place to provide information about juvenile offenders and support the rights of victims. Simultaneously, however, we need to ensure that reasonable confidentiality protections are afforded to juvenile offenders.
The Action Plan endorses the presence of victims in the courtroom, particularly in felony cases. Victims of juvenile offenders should be given the opportunity to address the court and be notified of the disposition, parole status, and release of perpetrators. It also supports programs that help young offenders understand the long-term effects of their behavior and learn how to control anger and resolve conflicts without violence. . . ."
In addition, the Action Plan endorsed the ACA recommendations cited above relevant to victims' participatory rights, access to information, victim awareness programs for youthful offenders, and training and collaborative efforts among victim services and juvenile justice professionals.
The Office for Victims of Crime has provided leadership and resources to promote victims' rights and services in juvenile justice. In 1995, OVC funded three forums sponsored by the National Organization for Victim Assistance to address these issues. In 1996 and 1997, OVC plans to assess the current state of victims' rights and services in juvenile justice, and develop training resources that highlight promising practices.
In addition, OVC has provided input and advice to national organizations
that are seeking ways to improve victim involvement in juvenile
court, treatment and rehabilitation, and probation and aftercare
processes. OVC-funded projects -- such as victim impact statement
guidelines, resources for victims of gang violence, and promising
practices in corrections -- all include important components relevant
to victims of juvenile offenders.
During the past decade, the overall profile of juvenile crimes and juvenile offenders has changed significantly. Gone are the days when youthful offenders were mere truants or spirited youth engaging in crimes like joyriding or the theft of phonograph records. The profile of today's juvenile offender has grown increasingly violent and progressively more bold in the commission and violent nature of their crimes. Fueled by the influx of highly addictive drugs such as crack cocaine, the aggressive influence of gangs, and the indiscriminate use of weapons, today's youthful offender is responsible for more serious crimes than those committed by his or her counterpart at the turn of the century. Consequently today's juvenile justice system is challenged by this changing profile of offenders. The role of the victim advocate is also challenged as each becomes engaged in the lives of the victims of these youthful offenders.
The challenges presented to the victim advocate working with victims
of juvenile crimes are very different then that of others working
within the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile justice
system presents more barriers to obtaining information and accessibility
on behalf of the victim and the victim's family. The juvenile
justice system of today is undergoing increasing scrutiny, as
well as timely, significant changes. The advocate working with
victims within the juvenile justice system encounters the challenge
of not only serving as advocates for the victim, but may be challenged
to serve as advocates for change as well.
Self Examination Chapter
21, Section 4
1) Describe the historical purpose of the creation
of the juvenile justice system.
2) Discuss the concept of confidentiality in the
juvenile justice system.
3) Describe two characteristics that are unique to
victims of juvenile offenders, and two characteristics that differentiate
juvenile justice systems from adult criminal justice systems.
4) Describe the new federal crime provisions for
juvenile offenders as enacted under the Violent Crime Control
and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
5) Briefly describe the components of your proposed,
ideal juvenile justice assistance system.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1992). National crime victimization
survey, 1991 (machine-readable data file). Washington, DC:
U.S. Department of Justice.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1992). Criminal victimization
in the United States, 1991. Washington, DC: U.S. Department
Snyder, H. N. & Sickmund, M. (1995). Juvenile offenders
and victims: A focus on violence. Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
To Chapter 21-Section 5