10.2. Juvenile Justice
Alison S. Burke
The contemporary juvenile justice system operates under the premise that juveniles are different than adults and require special attention and treatment. The juvenile justice system believes that juveniles are malleable and can be rehabilitated. The juvenile court is based on the premise that public safety is best served by emphasizing the rehabilitation, rather than the incapacitation and punishment of juveniles.  Unfortunately, sensationalized media exposure of violent youth has led to exaggerated public fear of juvenile crime, get tough legislation, and a perceived need to “do something” about juvenile crime.  This punitive position is nothing new. Before the inception of the juvenile justice system a mere 100 years ago, youth were treated the same as adults. They were considered culpable for their actions and housed alongside adult offenders in jails and prisons. Recent research has utilized neuroscience to support the need to treat juveniles differently because they are different. The sections of the brain that govern characteristics associated with moral culpability do not stop maturing until the early 20s. Therefore, it is assumed that someone under age 20, such as a juvenile delinquent, has an underdeveloped brain.
When addressing juvenile delinquency in America, the pendulum swings from punitive policies to rehabilitative policies and then back again depending on media, politics, and the current climate. There is no magic bullet approach to preventing juvenile delinquency, but as the court evolves, changes, and utilizes best practices, it gets closer.