Essay on Rehabilitation

Published: 2021/12/13
Number of words: 1405

The criminal justice system exists as a mechanism that is meant to deliver equal justice to every citizen in the United States in an efficient, effective, and fair process. Ultimate justice is achieved through the act of convicting and punishing guilty parties. There is a secondary purpose of the criminal justice system which is to rehabilitate the guilty and thus prevent reoffending. However, because both adults and juveniles are tried within this system there exists numerous variances in the ways that each will be tried. One of the major differences is that juveniles may be offered more leniency and sentencing possibilities in comparison to adults (Kurlychek et al., 2004).

The juvenile justice system has shifted throughout time from rehabilitating to punishment. In early times, efforts were punitive, using warehouse like institutions that eventually came to be viewed as ineffective. During the later 18th and early 19th centuries there was a movement from punishment to rehabilitation which mirrored the progressive era throughout America. This led to the establishment of the modern juvenile court system. This act also had negative consequences as formalizing the juvenile court system had also expanded it which led to imprisoning children and adolescents for noncriminal activities. Since the 1950s due process rights have been recognized for youthful offenders. Once again in the 1980’s and 1990’s juvenile courts expanded significantly which has also had some negative consequences. For example, zero tolerance discipline and school exclusion policies, which many believe have led to “school-to-prison pipelines.” (Skully, 2015).

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In the criminal justice system, a juvenile is defined as an individual who is under age 18 but this is not uniformly true from state to state. For example, in some states a juvenile is defined as one who is under the age of 16 (Sickmund, 1994). It is necessary for the courts to be structured differently for adults and for juveniles. For example, adult criminal courts will be open to the public and a defendant will be afforded a jury of their peers. However, juvenile courts are not open to the public and will not offer the accused a choice of having a jury of peers. Juvenile cases are carried out in private with only the child, the family and the attorney present. A judge will determine the ultimate outcome of the case. A judge may decide to enact penalties such as community service, probation, and the paying of fines. However, if a juvenile has committed more serious crimes a decision may be made to have him/her tried as an adult and sent to an adult correctional facility. States will have diverse standards for making a decision as to if a juvenile will be tried as an adult. For example, California has a more liberal perspective on this issue, asserting that no one under the age of 16 can be tried in an adult court (Sickmund, 1994).

Juvenile rehabilitation programs will have a chief aim which is to try to correct juvenile criminal behavior and prevent reoffending. A successful rehabilitation program will try to correct adverse behaviors while teaching individuals skills and techniques that will be needed for them to be productive in life. Rehabilitation programs are used because there is a hope that they will correct these negative behaviors and prevent reoffending. Whether an adult or juvenile offender, it is necessary that both be able to recognize the benefit of the rehabilitative program offered and have a desire to want to change and take life in a more positive direction. In most instances, a juvenile may be willing to accept this type of assistance and want to correct their behavior as a way to produce a more positive future than will a habitual adult offender. A chief strategy surrounding punishments that are given to adults and punishments that are afforded to juveniles are built around notions that an adult who commits a serious crime may need punishment more than a young person and that the younger individual may benefit more from an effective rehabilitation program. This notion is based upon an idea that rehabilitation may be seen as a more viable strategy because of a juvenile’s age and future potential.

If a juvenile will be tried as an adult will be dependent upon the seriousness of the crime that has been committed. When a juvenile is tried as an adult it means that they must fully understand their actions and what the consequences of these actions are (Sellers & Arrigo, 2009). There are specific circumstances where juveniles may be tried as adults. A juvenile may cross the threshold into the adult justice system by a waiver. A waiver is when a judge waives the protections of the juvenile justice system. This can occur when minors have multiple offenses or have committed serious crimes (Miner, 2014). Determinate factors will be comparable for juveniles and adults when rehabilitative services are considered. One of the key determinate factors will be the severity of the crime committed and if the defendant is a repeat offender (Tate, 1995). A decision may be made by the court that when an older juvenile offender has been offered and involved in past rehabilitative services yet has continued to commit crimes then they may be sentenced as an adult.

A chief desire of the court is to assist an offender learn from their mistakes and thus prevent future criminal acts. Both the offender’s community and the courts have an aim to help the offender learn better methods to handle difficult and stressful situations that will be encountered throughout life. For many, a single experience with incarcerations in a jail or detention center will be sufficient to deter future crimes. However, others may begin to see these institutions as places of escape where they will have their basic needs met. Unfortunately, and sadly it becomes like a home and will seem like an escape from the stresses of everyday existence.

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In deciding on the types of punishments that the court wants to enact there is a type of delicate balancing act that will try to make the offender accountable to the victim and to society. This aim may be achieved by giving him/her probation while also requiring the offender make restitution to the crime victim as well as participating in activities such as community service. These methods are meant as an alternative to incarceration. Incarceration should be viewed as a last resort because it is an expensive solution which is very costly to the criminal justice system and to the greater community. In the final analysis, whether or not the juvenile offender will want to change their behavior will depend upon their actions. Ultimately, whatever the punishment that is meted out there are limits to what a court can do. A juvenile offender must have a desire to want to change and stop being involved in criminal activity.

This paper has attempted to point out some chief differences (and similarities) that exist between the adult and juvenile justice systems. It is imperative for the responsible citizen to begin to understand what these differences are as a way to learn more about the way that both systems have evolved over time and currently function. In doing this, the citizen may arrive at and offer creative ideas that can then be used that will improve the often brittle connection between the community and the legal system. Working together to create viable and workable solutions is an important step that offers a path that will ultimately lead to positive results for both entities.


Kurlychek, M. C., & Johnson, B. D. (2004). The juvenile penalty: A comparison of juvenile and young adult sentencing outcomes in criminal court. Criminology42(2), 485-515.

Miner, K. (2014). Juvenile offenders tried as adults: What they know and implications for practitioners. Northern Kentucky Law Review41(2), 205.

Sellers, B. G., & Arrigo, B. A. (2009). Adolescent transfer, developmental maturity, and adjudicative competence: An ethical and justice policy inquiry. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 99(2), 435-480.

Scully, J. A. (2015). Examining and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline: Strategies for a better future. Ark. L. Rev.68, 959.

Sickmund, M. (1994). How juveniles get to criminal court. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Tate, D. C., Reppucci, N. D., & Mulvey, E. P. (1995). Violent juvenile delinquents: Treatment effectiveness and implications for future action. American Psychologist50(9), 777–781.

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