A major issue facing the juvenile justice system, and one that reflects problems within the foundation of the system itself, is how young offenders are initially treated and held, before the trial process. Laws dictating rights of adult suspects are not necessarily applied to juveniles, and this is due to an unresolved and halfway approach to juvenile crime to begin with.
For example, as juveniles are not considered responsible adults, it is often the case that parents are to be turned to when arrests take place. Legally, a parent or guardian must be contacted upon the holding of a suspected juvenile. This is a mode of thinking perhaps admirable, but hopelessly antiquated and unrealistic, since many adolescent offenders do not come from traditional backgrounds, or even have a parent in place as guardian. What actually happens in most cases of juvenile arrest is that the arresting officer is empowered to decide how far the process will go.
In fact, there is no such thing, technically, as “juvenile arrest”; the word employed is “detention”, and this in itself frees the court system from having to observe the rights of an arrested individual. In the eyes of the law, the juvenile is merely being “held”, and this allows for enormous discretion on the parts of the officers and the judges. Recent scandals have shown how this system is open to great abuse, as thousands of juveniles have been sentenced without counsel and/or moved through the system with no protections. This is a result, again, of a system that seeks to rely on a cultural model rarely in place: a parental authority. Without it, the system is reduced to moving juveniles along in an adaptation of adult justice.
If we are to use juvenile justice as it must be used, to stop the career criminal before they truly begin, the juvenile system must be completely removed from adult criminal justice, as is occurring in some states. We must recognize that juveniles are vastly different from older offenders, not...