Juvenile courts have been in existence for many years handling cases that involve children under the age of 18 who are convicted of committing various crimes. The courts remain vital in addressing errant children; thus, there is a need for making the judicial system better so that it continues playing a significant role in society. However, legislation must administer justice to all minors regardless of their family social status, or race. In this paper, I intend to reflect on two case studies of juvenile cases, the crime they committed, and apply various theories in explaining the root cause of the crimes. I would explore ways in which countries can improve the juvenile system so that it continues serving us better.
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Case Studies on Juvenile Cases
The first case study on a juvenile case involved Miller v. Alabama (2012). In this case, Miller, a minor, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for allegedly committing murder. The second case involved Graham v. Florida, who was convicted for life. In the case, Graham, a 16-year-old, was found guilty of committing an armed burglary with assault. The boy also was charged with attempted robbery and sentenced to life without parole. In light of the above cases involving juveniles, I would be more interested in the theories that tried to explain what might have influenced the minors to indulge in such criminal offenses that led to such landmark ruling. Some of the hypotheses that explain the root causes of a crime include biological and biosocial, social learning, and labeling theories.
Theories that Shape Human Behavior
Biological and biosocial postulation tried to address criminality’s root causes (Wright & Cullen, 2012). According to the proponents of biological theory, they argue that people are born criminals; thus, nothing can prevent them from committing a crime. Therefore, a child is likely to break a law regardless of social class or any attempts to avoid such inborn behaviors (Wright & Cullen, 2012). Conversely, biosocial theories hold a different perspective as they emphasize biosocial causes rather than natural ones. The second theory that tries to explain criminality’s root cause is the social learning theory proposed by Albert Bandura.
In his theory of social learning, Bandura (1969) postulated that people learn by example; when a child observes another person committing a crime, they can also do the same without judging whether the action is morally right or not. Therefore, Miller and Graham’s factors to commit the crime might have been beyond their control. That brings us to the question of the effectiveness of juvenile courts in addressing criminality among juveniles. The court should analyze the causes of crime among youngsters rather than emphasize more rehabilitation and correction practices. Lastly, a labeling theory states that one can develop antisocial behavior when society labels him or her as bad (Bernburg, 2019). Once someone has been identified with a bad character, it becomes difficult to change.
Effectiveness of Juvenile Courts
The juvenile court system has played a vital role in rehabilitating younger law offenders from deceasing from bad behavior through mentorship (Mears et al., 2015). In most cases, those convicted are not aware of the prevailing laws governing actions until they are found guilty. Any form of conviction may serve as an eye-opener to other minors to draw a lesson and avoid deviant behaviors (Hess et al., 2012). However, the juvenile system needs legislation to make it useful as far as the minors’ administration of justice is concerned.
For instance, in our case, Graham and Miller were initially sentenced without parole due to the juvenile courts’ failure to provide them with a lawyer who could have helped them during their trials. In most cases, juvenile courts make rulings that mostly affect children from poor households. The victims from such families mostly do not understand anything about existing laws, and their inability to hire a lawyer prevents them from getting a fair trial. In this regard, legislation is needed to ensure all children brought to the court get a fair trial irrespective of race or family background. The ones who cannot afford a lawyer must be provided with one to represent them during trials.
I believe the victims or their families would only support any legislation they feel would enhance justice in the juvenile court system. For instance, everyone wants to support any legislation advocating for the state to provide a lawyer representing a child from a poor socioeconomic background. In most cases, children from low-income families are not given a fair trial because of their inability to hire a legal practitioner. Similarly, any family would support legislation that seeks to remove an article that proposes minors be sentenced to life without parole. Minors are individuals who, in most cases, act carelessly.
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Bandura argued that children act by emulating what others do; thus, they are not sensitive to their actions’ nature. As such, they should not be sentenced to life but rehabilitated through learning. I believe the legislation that seeks fair trial does not target any social status of families. Such legislation would serve all families equally regardless of family social class or less. However, minors from poor backgrounds are the ones who would reap more from such legislation as they would be in a position to be treated equally in a court of law.
Bandura, A. (1969). Social-learning theory of identificatory processes. In J. E. Grusec & P. D. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization theory and research (pp. 213- 262). Rand McNally & Company.
Bernburg, J. G. (2019). Labeling theory. In M. D. Harvin, A. J. Lizotte, & G. P. Hall (Eds.), Handbook on crime and deviance (pp. 179-196). Springer.
Hess, K. M., Orthmann, C. H., & Wright, J. P. (2012). Juvenile justice (6th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Mears, D. P., Pickett, J. T., & Mancini, C. (2015). Support for balanced juvenile justice: Assessing views about youth, rehabilitation, and punishment. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 31(3), 459−479.
Wright, J. P., & Cullen, F. T. (2012). The future of biosocial criminology: Beyond scholars’ professional ideology. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28(3), 237−253. Web.