Juvenile Justice

D. Creating a New Juvenile Court

Still another suggestion is to make a new juvenile court. Noriega (2000) suggests the creation of a new juvenile court that has two branches: one for children and one for adolescents. The children’s court would be rehabilitative and would presume that children do not have criminal responsibility. The adolescent court would presume partial culpability and would be more punitive than the children’s court. Waiver would be by judicial hearing only. There would be no prosecutorial or legislative waiver, and waiver would be only to the next step. Thus, children could only be waived to adolescent court, and only adolescents could be waived to adult court. Juveniles (children and adolescents) would not be allowed to waive their right to counsel. Noriega’s reasoning for this is that children and adolescents are generally presumed not competent. Since they are not allowed to enter into contracts, cannot legally drink alcohol, and cannot vote or drive (until late adolescence), it is a logical extension that they be barred from making the decision on whether to waive their rights in court.

An attractive feature of this proposal is that it offers a more complex and more realistic view of child development. Instead of assuming that one day a juvenile is a child and the next day he or she is an adult, it recognizes the intermediate stage of adolescence. The impact of this approach is also probably more realistic than the results that would emerge from abolishing juvenile court and letting adult court handle juvenile matters. Adult courts are likely not going to be as caring and protective or concerned about youth discounts as advocates for that approach hope.

E. A Restorative Justice Juvenile Court

Some commentators suggest that now is the time to forge a new path for juvenile court. Namely, they propose adopting a restorative justice model in the juvenile justice system. This represents a radical rethinking of the role of juvenile court. Instead of sanctioning and supervising offenders, the role of the court would be to build community so that neighborhoods can better respond to and also prevent delinquency. Communities would be more involved in sentencing through community panels or conferences or dispute resolution programs. Communities would return to their role of being responsible for youths.

Examples of this approach can be found in many communities. Young offenders are involved in service projects such as home repair for the elderly and voter registration drives. In many places, offenders are paying victim restitution out of wages from public service jobs. In Oregon, offender work crews cut firewood and deliver it to the elderly. More than 150 cities are utilizing victim–offender mediation. In Colorado and Florida, offenders work with Habitat for Humanity building homes for lower-income families. In Florida, probation officers are walking neighborhood beats to help promote local guardianship of communities. In Boston and Florida, probation officers are helping police monitor probationers at night.

A positive feature about this proposal is that many restorative justice programs are already in place. Thus, this is not a hypothetical proposal. As noted, numerous communities already are working at restorative justice. A major question, however, is how far restorative justice can go. How willing are citizens to assume the responsibilities that restorative justice would give them in deciding cases and monitoring sanctions such as community service? If people are not available to staff the restorative justice programs, they will not work. The answer to this question is that restorative justice programs are thriving in communities throughout the United States, and they are gaining momentum within both the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

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