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Criminal Justice Argumentative Essay Sample

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Criminal Justice Argumentative Essay Sample

Juvenile delinquency is an issue that sparks varying reactions in the society. The definition of a juvenile varies across varying nations or states with some including those below 20 years of age while others lowering the age to 18 years. There is also a discrepancy on how the juveniles are to be treated with some advocating that they be treated as adults while others opt for an entirely different system. (Heilbrun K, et al, 2005). Juvenile delinquency according to criminologists entails any form of wrong doing perpetrated by young people aged 12 to 20 years.

The sociologists however, adopt a broader meaning of child delinquency arguing that it encompasses various legal as well as other social violations of norms which could be minor or serious in intensity. (Heilbrun K, et al, 2005). Juvenile delinquency raises much alarm as it spells doom for a nation’s future security, harmony or cohesion owing to the fact that a person who commits crime in his or her youthful age has a higher probability of committing crime in his or her adult life. Whether a juvenile justice system should focus more on rehabilitation or punishment is a critical issue that demands a better understanding of factors triggering delinquency among the youth as well as how effective the embraced strategy is. The current system embraces punishment for the juvenile delinquents. This paper highlights the reasons behind supporting a juvenile justice system that is more focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment. It will also discuss issues that such a system is likely to attract before responding to them.

 The juvenile justice system has undergone various changes for the past century. Initially, many concerns were constantly raised to treat the young people with some specialty. Children found guilty of criminal offences were viewed as delinquents who were not necessary criminals. The punishment given was to be equitable to what a parent would have offered. Retributive justice was to be reconsidered when addressing crimes committed by juveniles. Reforms such as the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1998 aimed at ensuring that there was a balance between the needs of the victims of juvenile delinquency which were mostly young people as well as those of the juvenile delinquent. This approach would ensure that a safer society was attained. (Heilbrun K, et al, 2005).

The originally adopted ‘rehabilitative aspect’ in the juvenile justice system deemed ineffective triggering the need to introduce more punitive measures. It was clear that some youths were ‘beyond reform’ especially those guilty of murder and it was agreed that they be handled in adult courts. After 1994, it was settled that the youthful offenders would be responsible for their crimes and consequently punished accordingly. The delinquents would however enjoy their legal rights as the adults did. This view triggered mixed reactions especially to those who argued that biologically, children were not mentally developed to justify such treatment. The initial confidential preference or privilege where delinquents would not be exposed to the public was also cut off. (Heilbrun K, et al, 2005).

 The current juvenile system ought to change course and focus more on rehabilitation rather than punishment for the juvenile offenders. As Edward and others in ‘Encyclopedia of Human Rights’ noted most criminologists support the use of non institutional treatment as opposed to institutional treatment when dealing with juvenile delinquents. They argue that juveniles are more vulnerable to negative treatment and might be worse off after exposure to the justice systems than they were on entry. Due to their early stage of development, punishing juveniles in institutions away from the normal social setting may see them worse off. (Lawson E and Bertucci M, 1996).  Developmental psychologists have categorically noted that juveniles should not be treated like adults as they have not matured enough. (Allen J and Claudia A, 1999).

James and Dawn in ‘Juvenile delinquency’ argued there are varied causes of crime which include biological, social, economical as well as psychological. To yield effective rehabilitative results these factors must be well understood so that the measures adopted satisfy the needs of the varied offenders. Perpetrators of severe crimes such as school shootings engage in such heinous crimes due to factors outside their control such as an ineffective communication system in schools. Exposure to guns or other weapons also trigger such acts and this can also be blamed on the society which entails the family, media and peers as well as the communities in which they live in. Some school shooters use murder after trying to explore other options to address their concerns without success.

This leaves them helpless forcing them to fight for themselves. (Dedman B, 2000). The juvenile justice system ought to help such young people rather than condemn and punish them. The media is also to blame for exposing children to violence. It was established that a large proportion of juveniles who engage in school shootings had been exposed to violent video games or movies. In today’s society where parental guidance has largely been jeopardized by the fact that both parents work, young people find themselves in a fix as they lack moral guidance. This is made worse by the fact that they are at a stage where they are seeking for identity and an appropriate role model is more of a necessity rather than a requirement. They resort to the media and peer groups which predisposes them to crime. Punishing juveniles for a failed society would not only be unfair but it would also be ineffective in the sense that it might see them become worse individuals.

Juveniles may also engage in crime due to peer influence especially when enroll in gangs. Research has it that many juveniles who engaged in criminal offences abused drugs, alcohol and other substances or suffered from mental disturbances. Other significant factors that promote juvenile delinquency include child abuse and neglect which lead to psychological disturbances on children. A preventive approach to curb this tendency would be the introduction of effective parenting or child raising techniques. Punishing individuals suffering from emotional as well as behavioral problems that may be as a result of divorce or issues with their social status would not yield the intended positive effects. (Heilbrun K, et al, 2005).

As Deirdre in ‘Case against punishment’ noted that the recidivism rates among juveniles decreased with the varying programs adopted. A 2% reduction was recorded on programs on family counseling, 36% on those focusing on employment while behavioral programs lead to a 24% reduction in recidivism rates. He also noted that positive rehabilitation results were attained when the process was conducted in the community rather than in prisons. (Golash D, 2005). A rehabilitative approach will embrace preventive strategies to deter juvenile delinquents from graduating into hardcore and unmanageable citizens. The rehabilitative focus would be more appropriate for juvenile delinquents as it tends to reach out and help the young people who will be the society’s future leaders as opposed to the punishment focus that embraces zero tolerance to crime. The law enforcement processes would be the role of the society at large. The families as well as other socialization agencies such as the religious organizations and schools will have the responsibility of instilling moral values and norms on the young members. Discipline would be embraced at all stages.

 The juvenile court systems would treat young offenders as delinquents in need of help rather than view them as criminals who should be accountable for their deeds. This way specific causes or factors triggering their acts will be delved into and amicable solutions taken. The probation services in this system would focus more on instilling vital skills on the juveniles’ thus making them better people in the society. These services would include social and recreational activities, individual as well as group based activities. For effective results, all the relevant parties must be involved such as the family members especially parents and the probation officers.

 The correctional facilities in the rehabilitation focused juvenile justice system would be different from those of adults. Such facilities would be preferred for those found of serious offences and care must be taken so that juveniles do not overstay in these systems. (Allen J and Claudia A, 1999).Community based services must be directed to regions prone to crime and they include empowering youth organizations to encourage them participate in beneficial activities. Such programs ought to focus on guiding juvenile delinquents and teaching them on the benefits of adhering to the set societal rules. Intervention programs adopted would include the ‘multi systematic family therapy’ which embraces the fact that juveniles engage in crime due to many factors such as peers, family as well as one’s neighborhood. This approach seeks to address specific issues subjecting juveniles to crime and yield positive effects as verified by various pilot programs conducted. (Allen J and Claudia A, 1999).

Proponents of a juvenile justice system that embraces punishment may argue against a system that focuses on rehabilitation on the grounds that it fails to see offenders pay for their acts. It fails to teach them that behavior or acts that are contrary to the set societal norms triggers punishment and hence fails to deter crime. They may also argue that punishing juveniles by placing them in institutions increases the societal security as those perceived as threats are confined in certain institutions. The concerns can however be dismissed on the grounds that an effective rehabilitation focused juvenile system will ensure reduced crime rates lowering the security threats. A major disadvantage of a juvenile justice system that focuses on rehabilitation is the fact that the juveniles may abuse the leniency offered and continue executing their criminal acts as after all they are juveniles and can go away with the crime. However an effective rehabilitative system will help them see their wrong and change for the better.

Justification of a punishment focused juvenile justice system would only be realized if the benefits or gains accrued out did the causes or consequences. It would also be justified when there lacked other effective alternatives. In determining the most appropriate system to embrace it is important to involve the cost aspect. In both approaches government funds which are mainly from taxpayers are used and it is crucial that positive yields are recorded. It would be unfair to the citizens or taxpayers to fund ineffective programs. In any case they ought to enjoy benefits such as a more secure environment. Robert in ‘Adult System Worsens Juvenile Recidivism, Report Says’ notes that although increased transfer of juveniles to the adult justice systems work to satisfy people’s need to impose harsh punishment on the young offenders in an effort to curb increased juvenile crimes it fails in its rehabilitative role. Although there has been a general consensus favoring the separation of children from adults in the criminal justice system this is not guaranteed and some end up in adult correctional facilities. Research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has it that such youths record increased rates of recidivism. The deterrence effect intended by punishment is also not attained. Juveniles incarcerated in adult facilities risk being sexually abused and have a more susceptible to committing suicide making the rehabilitative approach a sufficient approach. (Pierre R, 2007).

Communities have a major role to play in as far as eradicating juvenile delinquency is concerned. There is a clear discrepancy between varying communities with varying demographic characteristics. Youths who grow up in poverty stricken neighborhoods are more susceptible to crime when compared to those in middle class society. Poor neighborhoods have few employment opportunities, higher numbers of single parent families and the local institutions such as churches play a minimal effect in as far as role definition is concerned. Channeling more funds to create more job opportunities would be a major step towards reducing crime rates. Introduction of youth support programs would also be important in ensuring positive behavior. The entire society has a role to play in curbing juvenile delinquency.


Allen J and Claudia A. (1999). Getting the elephant out of the courtroom: applying

developmental perspectives to the disposition of juvenile offenders. Soc Policy Law. 1999; 6(4): 101–109.

Burfeind J  and Bartusch J. (2009)  Poor Outcomes Continue in Maryland’s Juvenile

 System Despite Large Investment, Low Success Rates, Even At Model New

Facilities. Retrieved on 17th July 2009 from


Dedman Bill. (2000). Deadly Lessons: School shooters tell why.  Chicago Sun-Times.

 Retrieved on 17th July 2009 from


Golash D. (2005). The Case Against Punishment: Retribution, Crime Prevention, and the

            Law. NYU Press,

Lawson E and Bertucci M. (1996). Encyclopedia of Human Rights. Taylor & Francis


Pierre, R. (2007). Adult System Worsens Juvenile Recidivism. Retrieved on 17th July

2009 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/11/29/AR2007112901936.html

Piquero A and Steinberg L. Rehabilitation Versus Incarceration of Juvenile

            Offenders: Public Preferences in Four Models for Change States.

Retrieved on 17th July 2009 from http://www.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7Bb0386ce3-8b29-4162-8098-e466fb856794%7D/WILLINGNESSTOPAYFINAL.PDF.

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