The Juvenile Justice System & Prevention Programs for Youth
Running into trouble as an adolescent is a natural part of growing up. But for some, the punishment can be given by a stony judge, not a strict parent.
The juvenile court system was established for youth under the age of 18 who commit crimes, such as disorderly or petty persons offenses. Unlike their adult counterparts, children are not charged with crimes, but delinquencies. The juvenile court’s primary focus is not punishment. The goal of a probation program is rehabilitation and accountability, so the adolescent does not commit any further crimes.
What Is the Juvenile Justice System Process?
The justice system has two sides: the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system for adults. Both are viewed and handled differently. Juvenile offenders typically receive less strict expungement requirements, whereas being convicted as an adult warrants a more no-nonsense approach.
The first step in the juvenile justice process is intake. When a juvenile is referred to juvenile court, an intake officer is usually assigned to the matter. Intake is where each youth is screened to determine three factors: dismissal, diversion or filing a petition. Dismissal is just how it sounds. If the court doesn’t want to take any further action against the youth, they will be dismissed.
Diversion means the court won’t proceed further with formal legal action; however, the offense will still be addressed in a juvenile justice program designed for delinquent and disruptive behaviors. Successful completion of this step results in the crime being dismissed without the youth going to court. In contrast, the third and final action is filing a petition. A petition is the formal pleading that initiates a juvenile court case. A juvenile court counselor must file this proceeding.
Some cases involving young offenders are severe enough to be transferred to the adult criminal court. A judicial waiver or transfer happens when a judge moves a case for a juvenile to an adult court, where they will be tried as an adult. In most states, a youth must be at least 16 to be eligible. Cases sought to be waived typically lean on the more serious side or involve a minor who’s a repeat offender. Other factors that may lead a court to grant a waiver include:
- Older minor
- Unsuccessful past rehabilitation efforts
- Youth services would have to work with a juvenile for an extended period
A petition is filed if the intake department believes a court should formally see a case. The case is placed on the court docket, or calendar, for an adjudicatory hearing.
Adjudication is the court process determining if the youth committed the act for which they are being charged. The trial is called an adjudicatory hearing. This is where the district attorney presents the evidence to the juvenile court judge. Cases that conclude in adjudication will proceed to a disposition hearing.
Disposition or sentencing is where the court decides what consequences best meet the juvenile’s needs. Judges have a wide range of sentencing options (usually called disposition orders), which they can impose on the minor, including:
- Foster home
- Day treatment
- Community service
Thousands of young people in America are held in detention facilities while their cases are handled in court. A juvenile detention center is a secure facility operated by local authorities or the state. With so many juveniles coming in and out, how can detainment affect them?
At the detention hearing, the judge will decide whether the juvenile must remain in custody while the case is proceeding. When awaiting the trial, the youth is often sent to a juvenile detention center until their hearing. Short-term confinement can have an adverse effect on the youth, like violence or worsened health.
What Are Juvenile Justice Programs for Prevention?
There’s some truth behind the phrase, “It takes a village.” Effectively supporting youth and preventing delinquency starts at home, with family and community involvement. Building a viable relationship within your community allows children to create relationships that support their mental and physical development.
Most of us have grown up being taught about the importance of education. But why is learning essential? School always has been the most effective way to combat crime. Regardless of race, gender or income, we at United Way of National Capital Area are committed to educational opportunities for everyone, focusing specifically on middle school students attending Title I schools in our region. Improving education prevents crime by keeping teenagers and youth busy as they engage with schoolwork. Through learning, children and teens are given a chance to start considering goals for themselves. It also helps develop critical thinking skills and provides stability.
A good afterschool program can turn aimless hours into a productive learning experience. When minors participate in afterschool programs, it helps reduce emotional stress, explore creativity and burn excess energy through various activities. One of the main benefits is it keeps the brain hungry for more knowledge. According to a National Conference of State Legislatures study, high-quality afterschool programs boost educational outcomes, school attendance and social and emotional learning.
Children are our future. It is our responsibility to sculpt our future by shaping our youth. Navigating the transitions into adulthood can be intimidating, especially for teens who lack adult guidance. That can be done through mentorship. Youth mentoring programs can help build confidence, improve wellbeing and connect young adults with opportunities to be successful.
Juvenile delinquency is a big problem in the United States, and the system’s process can be daunting and intimidating. At United Way NCA, our goal is to create a more equitable future for all community members. To successfully prevent youthful crime, preventative methods must first start at home. Communities must work together to devise effective strategies and ideas to ensure that our youth don’t turn or return to juvenile delinquency. When none are ignored, all will thrive.