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Integrated Criminal Court and Against an Independent Juvenile Justice System


The current changes in the policy of sentencing, jurisdiction, and procedure reveal disagreements about the importance of the juvenile justice system. Majority of juvenile justice theorists and policymakers understand the purposeful union of juvenile courts with the adult criminal justice system but oppose the possibility of removing the juvenile courts and sentencing all kinds of criminals in criminal court. They dispute that there are important differences between the development of adults and young individuals or that rehabilitation remains different from sentencing and persuade legislators to sustain the differences between offenders and antisocial or deviants.

Some stress psychological insufficiency or physical helplessness. Others argue that juvenile courts safeguard young lawbreakers from further corrective criminal justice rules. Yet, there are those who argue that juvenile courts furnish the sole opportunity in which to take into account all the official and legal issues, such as abuse, neglect, felony, and dependency, which impinge on families and children (Corriero, 2006). Finally, advocates of an independent juvenile justice system call upon the contingency argument of Progressives (Feld, 1999): in spite of the procedural defects and evident impoverishment of juvenile courts, criminal courts represent more unpleasant locations to try and sentence juvenile delinquents.

This paper argues for a consolidated criminal court. It is the contention of this paper that the weaknesses of long-established juvenile courts reveal a basic defect in their foundation rather than merely an implementation letdown. Juvenile courts try to integrate criminal social control and social welfare in a single organization and unavoidably perform both poorly due to the innate conflict in both functions. In contrast, a juvenile adaptation of an adult criminal justice system is a body devoid of any justification (Culbertson, 2000). Since there are already existing criminal courts, with no social welfare basis, a juvenile adaptation of an adult criminal justice system would only be unnecessary.

The Arguments for an Independent Juvenile Court and Against an Integrated Criminal Court

An independent juvenile justice system needs a more defined, refined justification than crude punishment versus rehabilitation arguments. In fact hardly any observable differences are present between these two functions. However, if it is recognized that juvenile courts penalize young delinquents, we then take the responsibility of granting them criminal procedural protections since “the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court” (Barkan & Bryjak, 2010, 520). It has been argued by the McKeiver Court that obliging procedural similarity with adults would terminate the juvenile court trial, yet took for granted the fact that refusing to do so reinforced bias and injustice (Feld, 1999). To perceive and deal with equally positioned criminals differently, to sentence young offenders for the sake of rehabilitation, and to strip them of essential protections cultivate a kind of injustice that frustrates any attempts towards reform.

The present juvenile court does not offer justice or rehabilitation and cannot be reformed. The other policy alternatives are to pattern juvenile courts to the adult criminal justice system or vice versa (Roberts, 2004). Regardless if young delinquents are tried in an integrated criminal court or in an independent court, we should reevaluate fundamental principles and deal with procedural and substantive matters. Substantive justice issues comprise forming and executing a doctrinal basis, such as shortened temper, psychological immaturity, weak disposition, or reduced conscience, to sentence juvenile delinquents dissimilarly, and more mildly, than adult criminals or suspects (Myers, 2005). Procedural justice issues, according to Cook (2001), involve granting young people procedural securities as adults and further safeguards that consider their defenselessness and immaturity in the criminal justice system.

Numerous scholars argue that “the assumptions underlying the juvenile court show it to be a bankrupt legal institution” (Feld, 1993, 282) that operates as an annex of criminal courts and needs a fresh justification to validate its survival. Nonetheless, instead of removing the juvenile court, they suggest to reform it into an overtly punitive juvenile justice system that metes out milder punishment and offers more procedural safeguards than do the adult criminal justice system because of the mitigated culpability of young offenders (Feld, 1999). They provide different arguments for a juvenile adaptation of an adult criminal court (Feld, 1999, 298):

No longer will the juvenile court be seen as a quasi-judicial court-clinic but, rather, as a real court, administering real justice in its traditional retributive and distributive meanings… [J]uveniles should have to pay for their crimes; but… society has a duty to its young delinquents to help them to gain moral and civic equilibrium.

This paradigm of ‘substitute protection’ refutes absolute similarity with adult criminal courts and stresses the helplessness of young individuals (Feld, 1999, 298-299):

By focusing on children’s lesser capacity to be culpable, a sorely needed justification for the existence of a separate juvenile court is provided, limits on the state’s power to intervene in the lives of its citizens are reaffirmed, and the role played by the infancy defense in legitimating juvenile court jurisdiction is highlighted… [T]he infancy defense reinforces both the authority of the juvenile court to assign blame and the intellectual and institutional integrity of our criminal law.

Combining mitigated culpability and punishment presents a justification for a dual criminal justice system founded on unqualified distinctions between the criminal liability of adults and young people.

Although advocates of an independent juvenile justice system propose abridged punishments for mitigated responsibility and improved procedural safeguards, they present hardly any justification to put into effect these policies in an independent juvenile justice system rather than in a consolidated criminal court (Champion & Mays, 1991). As firmly stated by the Juvenile Justice Standards “removal of the treatment rationale does not destroy the rationale for a separate system or for utilization of an ameliorative approach; it does, however, require a different rationale” (Culbertson, 2000, 289). Albeit the Juvenile Justice Standards suggest practically imitating adult criminal sentencing and procedures, they conceal in a postscript in one book their lone effort to validate an independent juvenile justice system (Wadlington, Whitebread, & Davis, 1983, 520):

Juveniles may be viewed as incomplete adults, lacking in full moral and experiential development, extended unique jural status in other contexts, and deserving of the social moratorium extended by this and all other societies.

It is the contention of this paper that young individuals are different from adults in the sense that influence their extent of culpability and merited penalty, but the advocates of independent juvenile courts fall short in clarifying the reason young people need an independent juvenile justice system to sentence them or to mete out milder punishments or shorter sentences.

Other advocates of an independent, juvenile adaptation of an adult criminal justice system provide more justifications. Some argue that all kinds of justice that recognizes the distinctive features of younger lawbreakers will necessitate some unique judgment abilities, legal expertise, and procedures and that the current juvenile court system offers a realistic and safer agency in which to implement these changes (Barkan & Bryjak, 2010). Nevertheless, as stated by Roberts (2004), the capacity of juvenile courts to choose modifications and improvements and to protect current organizational affairs indicate that merely a total separation from past procedures and people would allow the judicial branch to grant criminal procedural protections and put into effect various sentencing rules.

Advocates of a juvenile adaptation of an adult criminal justice system refer to the numerous limitations of the adult criminal court system such as insufficient sentencing alternatives, incompetent supervision, overflowing pending cases, inept defense counsel, to validate an independent juvenile justice system (Myers, 2005). Nevertheless, as argued by some scholars, these weaknesses of the adult criminal justice system are also true in juvenile courts (Corriero, 2006). An unemotional evaluation of the comparative importance and quality of adult criminal justice system and juvenile courts provides modest foundation on which to judge whether either justice or court system deals with adult offenders or young delinquents impartially and justly.

Argument for a Consolidated Criminal Court

If a young person is an offender and the ‘actual’ purpose s/he goes to trial is for prescribed social control, in that case, the delinquency authority of juvenile courts should be eliminated and try young offenders in criminal courts together with adult wrongdoers (Feld, 1999). However, it the offender is a young individual, in that case, sentencing policies should be adjusted to take into account the juvenility of some offenders.

The argument of this paper against an independent juvenile justice system represents neither a senseless promotion of punishment or sentencing nor a recollection of archaic periods’ perceptions of juveniles as small adults. Instead, it sincerely understands that the juvenile justice system presently carry out criminal social control, claims that juveniles in an adult criminal court system merit milder punishments for their transgressions than do their adult counterparts mainly because they are immature, and deals with the numerous issues produced by attempting to sustain conflicting (Myers, 2005), twofold criminal justice systems founded on a random labeling of a juvenile as an adult or a child.

Developing an argument for a consolidated criminal court requires major tasks. Primarily, it is imperative to build a justification for the sentencing of juvenile delinquents distinctively, and more mildly, than adult criminals. Openly punishing juvenile delinquents depends on the principle that young people have adequate psychological and mental capability to be culpable for their actions, although not similar to their adult counterparts (Culbertson, 2000). Studies in developmental psychology, criminal sentencing rules, and jurisprudence proffer explanation why juvenile delinquents merit milder punishments for their felonies than do adult criminals and validate official acceptance of juvenility (Roberts, 2004) as a justifying variable.

Moreover, according to Corriero (2006), it is vital to recommend a youth-oriented policy as workable administrative process to establish the premise of juvenility in sentencing. Rules for sentencing which take into account juvenility as a justifying variable and offers a youth-oriented policy cultivates substantial sincerity about the function of the criminal justice system and better practicality about the criminal liability and developmental capability of young individuals.

Disparities in judgment, point of view, and experience influence the capacity of young people to recognize or understand the moral substance of lawful standards, to exercise those principles in social circumstances, and to abide by the law (Champion & Mays, 1991). Young individuals have not totally cultivated the ability to regulate their urges or to fight temptation. Juveniles build up self-discipline over time by practicing self-moderation and acquiring experience (Barkan & Bryjak, 2010). Young individuals face numerous circumstances and conditions during puberty that deeply test their budding ability to control or discipline their selves and decide maturely. Throughout puberty, young individuals start to build up the ability to defy peer pressure, even though it requires a significant amount of time to improve this social capacity (Cook, 2001). The immature and weak judgment of young individuals and limited chances to practice self-discipline somewhat justify their criminal behavior.


Some typical developmental disparities between adults and young individuals differentiate their self-discipline, psychological ability, and quality of decision and rationalize a distinctive criminal sentencing rule for juvenile delinquents. Young people are different from adults in a number of areas that strongly influence their level of culpability and warranted sentence: vulnerability to external pressures and influences, perception of peril or possible consequences, and profundity of experience. These inherently distinctive characteristics influence the ability of adolescents to understand completely the implications of their behaviors and their social relations with others.

Furthermore, it requires experience and time to cultivate the ability to wield self-discipline. Although juvenile delinquents have adequate knowledge and liability to blame them for their behaviors, their decisions merit less culpability than to those their adult counterparts due to their shortened willpower. Their offenses are less culpable, not only due to mitigated liability and inadequate understanding of repercussions, but due to the fact that their life circumstances have evidently narrowed their ability to learn to exercise totally logical and dependable decisions.

When young people perpetrate a crime, the communities, schools, and families that educate, nurture, and rear them have a certain extent of culpability for falling short in doing so satisfactorily: “[Y]outh crimes as such is not exclusively the offender’s fault; offenses by the young also represent a failure of family, school, and the social system which share responsibility for the development of youth” (Feld, 1999, 298). People rely on others for growth and development, which involves the capacity to build up and practice the moral competence for positive actions. The ability to control and direct one’s self is not a thing of fortuity or chance but a socially produced process of development that gives juveniles the chance to build up a moral identity (Feld, 1999).  According to Barkan and Bryjak (2010), not like bold adults, due to their reliance young people are deficient of the capacity or means to break free from their ‘offensive’ circumstances.

This paper argues that a consolidated criminal court lessens the damage juvenile delinquents inflict on their selves, lessens the punishment given against them, and maintains the life opportunities of people who commit severe errors. The capacity to decide dutifully is learned ability, and the weak position of young people methodically strips them of opportunities to gain the skills of being responsible and reliable. Unavoidably, according to Corriero (2006), when young people are bestowed with freedom or independence in order to gain the knowledge of making reasonable decisions, they will take advantage of that lenience and trust.

The socially created life circumstances of young individuals apparently restrict their ability to learn self-discipline, narrow their chances to learn and take up obligation, and advocate a fractional cutback in criminal liability. Juvenility itself restricts chances to nurture and create conscientious adult. The vulnerability of young people to external pressures and influences shows inadequate development and growth of their own ability to make independent decisions and actions. Hence, an integrated criminal court should acknowledge young people’s lessened chances and inadequate capabilities to learn and to decide responsibly. This integrated criminal court would require a shorter sentence and a greater crime-severity limit before young offenders are imprisoned than for adult criminals.


Barkan, S. & Bryjak, G. (2010). Fundamentals of Criminal Justice: A Sociological View. UK: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Champion, D. & Mays, G. (1991). Transferring Juveniles to Criminal Courts: Trends and Implications for Criminal Justice. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Cook, J. (2001). Asphalt Justice: A Critique of the Criminal Justice System in America. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Corriero, M. (2006). Judging Children as Children: A Proposal for a Juvenile Justice System. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Culbertson, R. (2000). Juvenile delinquency: a justice perspective. The University of Michigan: Waveland Press.

Feld, B. (1993). Justice for children: the right to counsel and the juvenile courts. The University of Michigan: Northeastern University Press.

Feld, B. (1999). Bad Kids: Race and the Transformation of the Juvenile Court. New York: Oxford University Press.

Myers, D. (2005). Boys among Men: Trying and Sentencing Juveniles as Adults. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Roberts, A. (2004). Juvenile Justice Sourcebook: Past, Present, and Future. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wadlington, W., Whitebread, C. & Davis, S. (1983). Cases and materials on children in the legal system. The University of Virginia: Foundation Press.