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    Juvenile Justice Reform Essay (2885 words)

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    LawJuvenile Justice ReformMassachusetts Juvenile Justice Reform: A Step in the Wrong DirectionJuvenile JusticeTHESIS STATEMENT: The Great and General Court of Massachusetts has erredin reforming the juvenile justice system by implementing policies andprocedures that will harm juveniles and place society at risk. On July 23, 1995, an intruder brutally attacked and stabbed JanetDowning approximately 100 times in her Somerville home. The revoltingDowning murder and ensuing arrest of Edward O’Brien Jr. , a 15-year-oldjuvenile whom prosecutors say committed the heinous crime, sentshockwaves through the state. When Somerville District Court Judge PaulP. Hefferman ruled that the Commonwealth try Mr.

    O’Brien as a juvenile,those shockwaves grew in intensity, and the citizens of Massachusetts,fed up with increasing youth violence and perceptions of an ineffectivejuvenile justice system, demanded the enactment of tough new laws todeal with repeat and violent juvenile offenders. The Great and GeneralCourt of Massachusetts headed these demands for reform of the juvenilejustice system and enacted legislation that, among other things,abolishes the trial de novo system in the juvenile courts, requires thetrial of juveniles charged with murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape,forcible rape of a child, kidnaping, assault with intent to rob ormurder and armed burglary in adult court and permits prosecutors to opento the public juvenile proceedings when they seek an adult sentence. Although proponents tout these measures as a sagacious solution for thevexatious problem of juvenile delinquency, abolishing the trial de novosystem, providing for automatic adult trials and opening juvenileproceedings to the public when prosecutors seek an adult sentence worksto the detriment, not the benefit, of juveniles and society. Therefore,the policy makers of Massachusetts should repeal most sections of theJuvenile Justice Reform Act and develop other policies to deal with therising problem of juvenile crime.

    I. A SINGLE TRIAL SYSTEM PREVENTS COURTS FROM PROVIDING RAPID ASSISTANCETO JUVENILES IN NEED, DOES LITTLE TO SERVE JUDICIAL ECONOMY AND PLACES ASIMILAR BURDEN AS THE DE NOVO SYSTEM ON VICTIMS AND WITNESSES. Proponents of a single trial system for juveniles argue that the trialde novo system wastes judicial resources by giving defendants a secondbite at the apple and traumatizes victims and witnesses by forcing themto testify at two proceedings. However, these proponents fail toacknowledge that the de novo system allows judges to quickly providejuveniles with the rehabilitative help they need. The proponents,unsurprisingly, also fail to acknowledge that a single trial system mayplace a greater burden on judicial resources and a similar burden onvictims and witnesses. The de novo system benefits juveniles by encouraging bench trials,which frequently result in the swift administration of rehabilitativehelp.

    For many juveniles, delinquency is a reaction to a variety ofsituational stressors. Statistics indicate that the vast majority ofjuvenile delinquents are exposed to abuse and neglect, harsh or erraticparenting, and socioeconomic deprivation. Experts believe that if thejuvenile justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles and make themproductive members of our society, it must address these problems asswiftly as possible. A de novo system encourages juveniles, many ofwhom want judicial help, to request a bench trial. Likewise, under a denovo system, defense attorneys are encouraged to recommend an initialbench trial because the court’s decision does not bind clients if it isnot in their interest. On the other hand, a single trial systemdiscourages juveniles and defense attorneys from requesting a benchtrial.

    Because jury trials are more lengthy than bench trials and maydrag out for over a year, the current policy of encouraging juveniles toseek an initial jury trial denies them the rehabilitative help they needfor a significant period of time. Therefore, the de novo system is thepreferred choice when dealing with juveniles because it encourages benchtrials and, concomitantly, the swift administration of rehabilitativehelp. As noted earlier, one of the primary arguments for doing away with thede novo system is that it wastes judicial resources. However, uponcloser examination one realizes that the de novo system actuallyfurthers judicial economy.

    Under a de novo system, proceduralsafeguards can be done away with or relaxed at bench trials without fearof violating rights of defendants. Courts have found the elimination ofprocedural safeguards at bench trials in a de novo system to beconstitutional because the judiciary will extend all safeguards to thedefendant at a new jury trial if he/she so chooses. Although nostatistics could be found which indicate the number of defendantsappealing de novo bench trial decision, a court employee estimates thatit was around 3%. Thus, 97% of juvenile cases were disposed of throughbench trials, which are less costly and time consuming than jurytrials. While 3% of the cases resulted in two proceedings, the valueobtained from bench trials appears to significantly outweigh the costsincurred by appeals. Therefore, the de novo system may actually furtherjudicial economy more than a single trial system.

    The other primary argument for a single trial system is that makingvictims and witnesses testify at two trials is unfair. The 3% estimatethat the de novo system requires that victims and witnesses testify attwo trials very infrequently. Furthermore, replacing the de novo systemwill not eliminate the need for requiring some victims and witnesses totestify at two trials. Appellate courts have the power to reverse atrial court’s decision and order a new trial. In cases where the trialcourt’s decision is reversed, victims and witnesses must testify again.

    Given the strong state interest in reforming juveniles, protectingsociety and conserving judicial resources and the fact that a one trialsystem also requires some victims and witnesses to testify twice, theburden placed on witnesses and victims by the de novo system cannot beconsidered unreasonable. In sum, the de novo trial system better suits the needs of juvenileoffenders, society and the court system for several reasons. First,under the de novo system, judges can expeditiously provide therehabilitative help that juveniles need. Secondly, the de novo systemdoes not appear to burden judicial economy.

    In fact, despiteproponents’ claims to the contrary, the evidence appears to indicatethat a de novo system actually furthers judicial economy. Finally,although a slight burden is placed on those victims and witnesses whoare forced to testify at two proceeding, this burden exists in a onetrial system and is outweighed by the strong state interest inrehabilitating juveniles, protecting society and conserving judicialresources. II. AUTOMATICALLY TRYING JUVENILES CHARGED WITH MURDER, MANSLAUGHTER,AGGRAVATED RAPE, FORCIBLE RAPE OF A CHILD, ASSAULT WITH INTENT TO ROB ORMURDER AND ARMED ROBBERY CONTRADICTS THE NOTIONS UPON WHICH THEJUVENILEJUSTICE SYSTEM WAS FOUNDED AND, ULTIMATELY, PLACES SOCIETY AT RISK.

    Besides eliminating the de novo system, the Juvenile Justice Reform Actalso provides for the automatic trial of juveniles charged with murder,manslaughter, aggravated rape of a child, assault with intent to rob ormurder and armed robbery in adult court. The automatic trial provisionis unnecessary in light of new procedures that provide for a post-trialamenability to rehabilitation determination. Moreover, automaticallytreating certain juveniles as adults goes against the traditionalpurposes of the juvenile system, and, ultimately, poses a greater riskto society when correctional authorities release the offender. The provision providing for automatic trial in adult court of juvenilescharged with murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape of a child, assaultwith intent to rob or murder and armed robbery in adult court isunwarranted in light of additional provisions contained within theJuvenile Justice Reform Act that eliminate pretrial transfer hearingsand replace them with post-trial amenability to rehabilitationhearings. Scott Harshbarger, the Attorney General of Massachusetts andauthor of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, states that the automatictransfer provision is necessary to address the “the time-consuming andburdensome nature of the transfer hearing process.

    ” In other words, Mr. Harshbarger advocates treating juveniles as adults in certain casesbecause it is too much of a bother to conduct a pretrial hearing todetermine whether the juvenile is amenable to rehabilitation. Mr. Harshbarger’s position is especially confusing in light of the provisionin the Juvenile Justice Reform Act that supplants pretrial transferhearings with post-trial amenability to rehabilitation hearings. Underthe new system, the legislature has eliminated pretrial transferhearings in juvenile court and mandated that the court hold trialsfirst.

    If the juvenile is found guilty at the trial, the court holds apost trial amenability hearing in conjunction with the sentencingheating. Once the court makes a determination as to whether thejuvenile is amenable to rehabilitation, the judge can impose threepossible sentences: (1) an adult sentence; (2) a juvenile sentence; or(3) commit the juvenile to the Department of Youth Services until he/shereaches the age of twenty-one. As the legislature has eliminated theburdensome nature of the transfer process, Mr. Harshbarger’s rationalefor the automatic trial provision makes no sense.

    Moreover, the adulttrial provision effectively denies juveniles charged with certain crimesrehabilitation opportunities and defies common sense by transferringjuveniles out of the juvenile system where an adult sentence may beimposed by a judge who is familiar with the needs of juveniles to theadult criminal system where judges are not familiar with the needs ofjuveniles. In addition to being unnecessary in light of the elimination oftransfer hearings in the juvenile justice system, the automatic trialprovision contradicts the traditional philosophy of the juvenile justicesystem. The fundamental principle upon which the founders based thejuvenile justice system is that juveniles are different from adults andneed different treatment. Throughout its history, the juvenile justicesystem has strived to uphold this principle by providing benevolent andless formal means than adult courts for dealing with the unique problemsof juvenile offenders.

    For instance, juvenile courts typicallysubscribed to the philosophy of rehabilitation, rather than punishment,and closed proceedings to the public to protect juveniles from harmfulstigma. Massachusetts, in providing for the automatic trial in adultcourt of juveniles charged with certain crimes, moves away from thetraditional benevolent, rehabilitative philosophy of the juvenilejustice system and toward a retributive or “just desserts” philosophy. Critics dismiss this contention, stating a judge in the adult courtstill has the authority to impose a juvenile sentence on the offender. However, given the adult criminal court’s goal of punishment and lack ofexperience with juveniles, a judge is likely to impose a juvenilesentence only in the rarest of cases. Moving away from the traditional philosophy of the juvenile justicesystem by automatically treating certain juveniles as adults increasestheir propensity for crime and increases the risk to society.

    Studiesindicate that juveniles tried as adults typically do not receive longeror more severe sentences than those juveniles tried in the juvenilecourt. The studies also suggest that juveniles tried as adults have ahigher rate of recidivism than those juveniles with like profiles whoare charged with similar offenses and tried in the juvenile justicesystem. The higher rate of recidivism for juveniles tried as adults islikely the result of their being released into society undereducated,unsocialized, unemployable and in their physical prime. In other words,the adult criminal system sets juveniles up for failure by making theminto the very model of what we wish to avoid.

    Therefore, if one trulyvalues public safety, he/she should not support automatic transfers toadult court for certain juveniles because they will eventually return tosociety and, in most cases, to crime. To recap, the automatic trial as adult provision contained within theJuvenile Justice Reform Act is unnecessary, contradicts the traditionalnotions of the juvenile justice system and jeopardizes public safety. The abolishment of transfer hearings and creation of post-trialamenability hearings has eliminated the need for automatic transfer to acourt. Additionally, the adult transfer provision counters thebenevolent, rehabilitative philosophy of the juvenile justice system byshipping juveniles whom society can rehabilitate to the punishmentoriented adult criminal court.

    Finally, the policy of treatingjuveniles as adults is likely to backfire because they eventually returnto the streets undereducated, unsocialized, unemployable and in theirphysical prime, which often results in a return to a life of crime. III. OPENING JUVENILE PROCEEDINGS WHERE PROSECUTORS SEEK AN ADULTSENTENCE IS UNFAIR TO JUVENILES WHO RECEIVE JUVENILE SENTENCES ANDRESULTS IN HARMFUL STIGMATIZATION. Under the reformed juvenile justice system a prosecutor can seek anadult sentence for a juvenile via two methods. The first, called directfile, permits the prosecutor to file the complaint in adult court. Ifthe prosecutor pursues this method, the state tries the youth in adultcourt and the proceedings are open to the public.

    The second, and moretroublesome method, allows the prosecutor to try the juvenile injuvenile court and seek an adult sentence there. These proceedings arealso open to the public and are unfair to juveniles who do not receivean adult sentence. Furthermore, opening juvenile proceedings to thepublic stigmatizes juveniles as criminals for the rest of their lives. The section of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act that allows the openingof juvenile hearings to the public where an adult sentence is soughtwill expose some juveniles to public scrutiny even though theyultimately receive a juvenile sentence. Currently, a Massachusettsprosecutor has the option of opening juvenile proceedings to the publicby seeking an adult sentence.

    Although prosecutors seek an adultsentence, the judge still has the discretion to sentence the offender asa juvenile after a post-trail amenability to rehabilitation hearing. Thus, it is entirely possible and probable that a number of cases injuvenile court which result in a juvenile sentence will be open topublic scrutiny. Such a system is unfair because it allows prosecutorsto throw open the doors of secrecy in juvenile court even if there islittle chance of an adult sentence being imposed. Opening juvenile proceedings to the public also results in juvenilescarrying around the taint of criminality which may lead to recidivism. Generally, proceedings in juvenile court have been closed to the publicand press to prevent the stigmatization of minors and encouragerehabilitation.

    Allowing prosecutors to open juvenile judicialproceedings to the public will undermine rehabilitative efforts bycreating a self-perpetuating stigma of delinquency, placing anaccompanying stigma on family members, which could impair the juvenile’sfamilial relationships, encouraging youths to commit crimes forpublicity or attention and contributing to a deterioration in thejuvenile’s interaction with his peers, the educational system and thesurrounding community. Because prosecutors are frequently unconcernedwith the interests of juveniles and cater to public sentiment, thedecision to open juvenile judicial proceedings should be left in thehands of an impartial decision maker. To summarize, prosecutors should not have the option to open juvenileproceedings where they seek an adult sentence to the public because itis unfair to juveniles who receive juvenile sentences and underminesrehabilitative efforts. Opening hearings to the public in juvenilecourt when the prosecutor seeks an adult sentence will result in somecases being held subject to public scrutiny even though the judgeimposes a juvenile sentence. Such an arrangement is unfair to juvenileswho are amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system.

    Additionally, opening juvenile hearings to the public is likely toundermine rehabilitative efforts by creating a self-perpetuating stigmaof delinquency, placing an accompanying stigma on family members, whichcould impair the juvenile’s familial relationships, encouraging youthsto commit crimes for publicity or attention and contributing to adeterioration in the juvenile’s interaction with his peers, theeducational system and the surrounding community. Therefore,prosecutors should not have the power to open juvenile court proceedingsto the public by seeking an adult sentence. IV. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONSThe Massachusetts Great and General Court, in attempting to reform thejuvenile justice system, has embarked upon a noble and worthwhileendeavor.

    However, the reforms instituted by the legislature are theproduct of faulty perceptions and erroneous beliefs rather than informedpolicy making. If the citizens of Massachusetts are truly interested inchanging the juvenile justice system for the better, it is not too lateto petition the legislature to repeal and amend the detrimental sectionsof the Juvenile Justice Reform Act. The citizens of Massachusetts couldalso contact their representatives and ask them to introduce newlegislation that benefits both juveniles and society. One may wonder that if the Juvenile Justice Reform Act is bad publicpolicy, what policies should be implemented to reform the juvenilejustice system. Perhaps the first step our legislature should take isto implement preventative programs, such as parenting classes, afterschool and summer athletic programs and academic intervention, to keepjuveniles from entering the juvenile justice system in the first place. Not only are such interventions and programs effective, they are alsocheaper than incarceration.

    The average yearly cost of incarcerating ajuvenile ranges from $35,000 to $64,000. On the other hand, the averagecost of academic intervention is approximately $4,300 and a year atHarvard costs $30,000. Therefore, for the amount that it takes toincarcerate one juvenile for a year, the Commonwealth could preventapproximately 14 juveniles from entering the juvenile justice system. In addition to implementing preventative programs, Massachusetts shouldexamine the rehabilitation programs and measures of other states andadopt those that are effective. Although most states have moved towardrecognizing punishment and accountability as the goals of the juvenilejustice system, no state has entirely eliminated the philosophy ofrehabilitation. Many of these states have proven rehabilitationprograms and measures in place.

    For instance, Utah has founded theIntermountain Specialized Abuse Treatment Center in Salt Lake City torehabilitate juvenile sex offenders, and California has established bootcamps for juvenile delinquents. By examining the rehabilitationprograms of other states and adopting those that are effective,Massachusetts could design a new and successful rehabilitation systemfor juveniles. A third and more practical possibility is that Massachusetts couldincrease funding to its existing juvenile rehabilitation system. In1989, the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, an agency devotedto helping youths choose productive, crime-free lives, while keeping thepublic safe, was named the best juvenile agency in the United States bythe National Council on Crime and Delinquency. However, several yearslater the Department of Youth Services came under fire when severalyouths in its custody died, and a youth who was away without leaveparticipated in a double murder. Officials at the Department of YouthServices maintain that the agency has fallen into disarray as a resultof budget cuts and overcrowding.

    Thus, by increasing the budget of theDepartment of Youth Services, the Commonwealth can restore the agency toits former prominence and, at the same time, add vitality to thephilosophy of rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system.

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