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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

Proposed Reforms Many

Proposed Reforms Many scholars stress the importance of reforming the juvenile justice system to increase its effectiveness and avoid discrimination. Finley argues for early intervention in juvenile delinquency, and advocates for the development of programs that are more centered on rehabilitation rather than punishment. James C. Howell et al. argue that zero tolerance policies overwhelm the juvenile justice system with low risk offenders and should be eliminated. They also argue that the most effective ways to reform the juvenile justice system would be to reduce the overrepresentation of minorites and eliminate the transfer of juveniles to the criminal justice system. Zimring and Tannenhaus also discuss the future of the juvenile justice system in the United States. They argue that educational reentry programs should be developed and given high importance alongside policies of dropout prevention. Reentry programs focus on providing care and support to juveniles after being released from detention facilities, and encouraging family support to help adolescents during this adjustment period. They also argue for the elimination of juvenile sex offender registration requirements, and the reform of criminal record information for juvenile offenders. Some popular suggested reforms to juvenile detention programs include changing policies regarding incarceration and funding. One recommendation from the Annie E. Casey Foundation is restricting the offenses that are punishable by incarceration, so that only youth who present a threat to public safety are confined. Other suggestions include investing in alternatives to incarceration, changing economic incentives that favor incarceration, and establishing smaller, more humane and treatment-oriented detention centers for the small number who are confined. Positive Youth Development and The Juvenile Justice System Positive Youth Development (PYD) encompasses the intentional efforts of other youth, adults, communities, government agencies and schools to provide opportunities for youth to enhance their interests, skills, and abilities. The justice system offers specific services to youth facing significant mental health and substance use challenges, but the majority of youth do not qualify for these targeted programs and interventions. Butts, et al. suggest that the integration of positive youth development into the juvenile justice system would benefit youth charged with nonviolent, less serious offenses. Widespread implementation of PYD approaches in the juvenile justice system faces many challenges. Philosophically however, the PYD framework resembles the progressive era ideals that informed the creation of the first juvenile court. As Butts, Mayer and Ruther describe, "The concepts underlying PYD resemble those that led to the founding of the american juvenile justice system more than a century ago. [...] Organizers of the first juvenile courts saw the solution to delinquency in better schools, community organizations, public health measures, and family supports. They believed Page 24 of 114

an improved social environmental would encourage youth to embrace pro-social norms." Integration of PYD into the juvenile justice system is informed by social learning theory and social control theory. Taken together, these theories suggest that "youth are less attracted to criminal behavior when they are involved with others, learning useful skills, being rewarded for using those skills, enjoying strong relationships and forming attachments, and earning the respect of their communities". This is in stark contrast to the theories of deterrence and retributive justice espoused by the current justice system. Youth Court Youth Courts are programs in which youth sentence their peers for minor delinquent and status offenses and other problem behaviors. The program philosophy is to hold youth responsible for problem behavior, educate youth about the legal and judicial systems, and empower youth to be active in solving problems in their community. Youth courts function to determine fair and restorative sentences or dispositions for the youth respondent. Youth court programs can be administered by juvenile courts, juvenile probation departments, law enforcement, private nonprofit organizations, and schools. Youth court programs operate under four primary models: Adult Judge, Youth Judge, Peer Jury, and Youth Tribunal Models. Under the adult judge model, an adult volunteer serves as the judge while youth volunteers serve as prosecuting and defense attorneys, jurors, clerks, and bailiffs. Under the youth judge model, youth volunteers fill all roles, including judge. Under a peer jury model, youth jurors question the respondents and make sentencing determinations. Under a youth tribunal model, youth serve as prosecuting and defense attorneys, and present their cases to a panel of youth judges, who then make a sentencing determination. To date, there are no comprehensive national guidelines for youth courts, but rather, courts operate under and are tailored to their local jurisdictions. To date, there are more than 675 youth courts in the United States. East Palo Alto and Boston have both implemented youth courts. The East Palo Alto youth court is based on restorative justice principles. Eligible youth must admit the facts of the case, after which youth attorneys explain the facts of the case to a youth jury. In Page 25 of 114

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