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The selection of jurisdiction for adjudicating juvenile crime today is one of the most controversial debates in crime control policy, reflecting differences in assumptions about the causes of crime and philosophies of jurisprudence and punishment. For adolescent offenders, especially violent youth whose behaviors may pose particular social danger, critics view the traditional goals of the juvenile court and the "best interests of the child" standard as being at odds with public concerns for retribution and incapacitation of criminals. The choice between jurisdictions is a choice between the nominally rehabilitative dispositions of the juvenile court and the explicitly punitive dispositions of the criminal courts. The choice reflects differences between sentencing policies that assign primary importance to the individual and those that accord greater significance to the seriousness of the offense committed and the goal of proportional punishment.

Critics of the juvenile court's rehabilitative policies suggest that the court's sanctions for violent crimes are not only inappropriate and disproportionate for the seriousness of the crimes, but also ineffective in deterring subsequent crime. They contend that the criminal court, with its punitive sanctions, is the more appropriate forum for adjudicating violent crimes by juveniles whose offense and behavior patterns should mandate lengthy incarceration in secure facilities. The critics further argue that treatment programs for juvenile offenders are ineffective, thereby negating the purpose of the juvenile court. The seriousness of violent juvenile crimes suggests that these adolescents can be neither controlled nor rehabilitated in the juvenile justice system.

In contrast, supporters of the juvenile court argue that violent juvenile crime is a transitory behavioral pattern, which is unlikely to escalate to more serious or persistent crime. They argue that adolescent offenders benefit from treatment services that pose only a minimal threat to public safety while avoiding the lasting stigmatization of criminal justice processing. Finally, many proponents of juvenile justice processing of violent delinquents do not accept the criticisms of rehabilitative programs, arguing instead that weak evaluation research or poor program quality mask the natural strengths of juvenile corrections.


Criminal Law | Juvenile Law | Law